We are calling for a Public Debate on the $122.5 million dollar “regional jail project” – becuase it is only good business to talk about it, says our Board of Directors. It is critically important that we know what we are getting into, before anyone embraces the jail sales tax proposal on the Executive Branch recommendation. Here are just a few questions:
– This is a direct expansion of regulatory government: What is the real pass-through fiscal impact on the people of Whatcom County? What are we not funding that should be funded? Can the people sustain the extra costs of not only the build up, but the expansion to huge facility?
– Where is a true Needs Assessment that covers taxpayers concerns? Why don’t we have a taxpayer’s SWOT analysis on a hundred plus million dollar project? SWOT is a business term that is typically done on a company proposal…it stands for “Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats”. Why would we not deserve to have this done in several millions of dollars in planning…especially since we will have to pay the bill on this project – FOR LIFE? We paid for one twice…yet taxpayer concerns were simply written off by the jail planners as being “outside the scope”.
– What happens to the people if the County overbuilds? What if the community takes back its power and starts putting people to work rather than into jail?
– Why has this supposed local Whatcom County jail suddenly become a “regional jail project” ? That is what County Executive Jack Louws called it in March 16, 2015 in a letter to the Bellingham City Council – what happened that that happened?
– We need a full-on public education, awareness and public and institutional debate on this issue. “What you invest in, you get more of” is a favorite maxim for new legislators. Is a “regional jail project” what the county taxpayers really want?
– It will affect every non-profit and all people at the middle and lower rung of society...for what you spend over there, will not go somewhere else. This is why overcriminalization increases poverty. This will impact the entire community budget, cash flow, and reserves for fire, other public safety matters. This budget issue crosses all tribes, municipalities, and jurisdictions…yet no-one has discussed this with the public in open debate.
– Before doubling the jail…Why have we not done a full review of past Law and Justice practices in our community? In 1985 our budget was 55% for what we now run at about 65-70%. Over the past 30 years certainly someone should be examining our efficiencies and effectiveness, strengths and weakeness. It is poor management to just double a departments reach without examination of past practices to see if they equal best practices.
– We need to look at precisely where we are now with taxpayer ROI (return-on-investment to the taxpayer) figures. It is not enough to just the calculate the ROI to the County corporate bottomline – that is a completely different business measure.
– What are the cost projections over the next 10-20-30 years…for the Internal Rate of Return figures will be horrendous once the retirement figures start kicking in for a double-plus the size Sheriff’s department if it does in fact expand to the 800 bed jail that the Sheriff has repeatedly demanded.
Once built, this jail will not reduce in size, and the costs of operations will skyrocket. Some say, “If we built it – they will come”. I ask “Why?” My answer is now, after many years of research: The vacancy rate and cost of overhead will compell it. The occupancy of beds will get filled – even if the arrests are not even valid. Often people will say, “That’s just business.”
But I say…it is bad business, for it is only the way business is done if we fund that business. If we do not fund that business sector, then the business will go another direction…into restorative economics…that yields a higher return on investment to the taxpayers and a safer, saner, happier community. It is a far better idea.
Why not have that conversation?