HELENA – Preliminary results showed the levy to pay for operations and maintenance costs for a renovated Lewis and Clark County jail in Helena has passed.
The levy’s success comes as good news for jail officials who said the current Law Enforcement Center is chronically overcrowded and outdated.
“I’m very thankful for the people that helped and thankful for the citizens that have the trust in us to do this job and make this a better place for our detention officers and helping with the patrol division to help make the streets safer, so we’re pretty excited,” Leo Dutton, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff, said.
In 2016, voters approved a $6.5 million bond to remove the offices in the current Law Enforcement Center and convert the entire building to jail space. However, at the time voters failed to pass an accompanying levy that would have funded the operations and maintenance expenses of the expanded jail.
The successful second attempt at the levy will raise about $4 million each year for the next 15 years by increasing taxes. Taxes on a home valued at $200,000 will now rise by about $85 a year.
Lewis and Clark County Comissioner Susan Good Geise said she is “profoundly grateful” to county voters and property taxpayers for allowing them to go forward with the project and to the groups that advocated for the levy.
“I am so happy for detention officers who can have hope they can work in a safer environment,” Geise said.
According to Sheriff Dutton, during the next six months the county will request bids from contractors and architects before renovations begin. The Sheriff’s Office and Helena Police will need to relocate their offices which currently sit in the Law Enforcement Center below the upper-level jail.
Built in 1985, the jail was designed to hold 54 inmates but often holds more than twice that number.
The Law Enforcement Center began offering tours of the facility in July, hoping voters would decide in favor of the levy after seeing the conditions inside the building.
Sergeant Scott Ferguson with the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center said with the jail filled to the brim, it’s difficult to house all the inmates. Some are event sent to neighboring counties because there isn’t enough room.
“It’s a juggling act all the time trying to decide where we’re going to put these people,” Ferguson told MTN News last month.
As a result, rooms at the jail such as the library become housing. Inmates sleep on mats on the floor next to the bookcases. With the levy and bond now passed, renovations can begin to turn the Law Enforcement Center into a 3-floor jail.