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It’s rare in life when a person gets down to only one option. Generally speaking, there are several options available when considering “how to get the job done.” The jail is no exception. The good news is that perhaps for the first time in many years, there is a unified front from the Board of Commissioners regarding the need for a new public safety facility. On May 21, voters will decide how they would like to use their tax dollars to fund it.

As the new Commissioner for District 1, let me say that I respect the hard work and dedication that has gone into solving the problem of public safety preceding my term of service. I salute the sheriff and his staff as the working conditions inside the current facility are less than ideal. Safety is a concern for both inmates and law enforcement and the reality is that the current Dale Haile facility is closer to the end of its useful life than the beginning. As our community continues to grow, so will the need for a facility that can handle those who cannot abide by the law.

There are multiple factors for voters to consider when going to the polls. The important thing is that your voice is heard, and you exercise your constitutional right to vote. Here are the considerations from my perspective as your District 1 Commissioner:

1. Although the “how much” is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the “how to” is really the critical component. This is not the first, or the last, municipal project the County will fund. Rather than saddling taxpayers with the total cost for one project which will raise new taxes for all business and property owners, I am suggesting Commissioners exercise creative financing options like reallocating urban renewal dollars and expiring tax incentives, allocating a percentage of new construction toward debt service and supplementing those options with other identified revenue sources in order to get to the annual payment amount for debt service. It is a different approach than Commissioner Dale presented in his Guest Opinion on May 11, where he stated, “Citizens will need to pay the price.” Partnering with citizens through thoughtful, strategic planning and revenue sourcing is what I am proposing. This option does not mean waiting 27 years to build the jail nor does it mean paying cash. It means exercising options that keep the tax burden as low as possible. Both options presented to voters will mean a 20-year payout. The difference is how much in new tax revenue taxpayers will be paying.

2. Now let’s talk about the “how much”. How much will be determined once engineered drawings have been secured. Contracting with an architectural firm to produce these drawings will require a multi-million-dollar investment on the part of the County. The DLR study is conceptually a good design but not designed to estimate cost. One thing we can all agree on — jails are inherently expensive to build. Here are my thoughts to what it may mean if you vote “No” on the $187 million jail bond. It doesn’t mean you don’t want a new facility. It may mean that you want county commissioners to explore other financing options and couple those options with a smaller bond thereby limiting the amount of new property tax imposed on county residents.

3. All other questions and concerns will fall in line after May 21, after voters have provided direction for county commissioners on how they want to fund the jail. According to Idaho Code, commissioners are charged with the responsibility of allocating funds to meet the County’s need for public safety. In reality, the need for public safety will be met by a coordinated, collaborative approach using creative financing and a high level of cooperation and negotiation so that all parties can buy in at some level. As Commissioner-elect and now District 1 Commissioner, I, like others, have worked hard to understand the need. I’ve spent time researching, studying, talking with law enforcement and listening to citizens. I do not pretend to have all the answers. I can only assure you that my decisions will be thoughtful and strategic, conservative but progressive. Fear may work in the short-term, but the most successful solutions will have approval from key stakeholders including law enforcement, elected officials and enough information, education and transparency that citizens can get behind the decisions that are made.

Since being sworn in I have been working to establish a Capital Improvements Fund which will eventually eliminate the need for bonding for municipal projects. In the upcoming weeks, I will be working with the other commissioners and our legal team to help make that a reality.

Thank you for taking time to read and be informed. I work hard for the people who elected me. I take my job seriously. When people ask if I like being a Commissioner, my answer is always the same, “No. I love being District 1 Commissioner for the people of Canyon County.” Thank you for the privilege of representing you. I don’t take it for granted. See you at the polls

Leslie Van Beek is the Canyon County Commissioner representing District 1.

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