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Posted on: February 1, 2023

Public Town Hall Meeting Dates for Proposed Jail District

COCHISE COUNTY RELEASES PUBLIC TOWN HALL MEETING DATES FOR PROPOSED JAIL DISTRICT AND FAQs FOR VOTERS | SPECIAL ELECTION MAY 16, 2023

BISBEE, Ariz. (02/01/2023) – The Cochise County Jail is significantly outdated and faces safety concerns, power capacity issues, plumbing problems, technological problems, leaks, and other costly repairs. It was originally designed to house 168 prisoners, but over the years, it has been modified to hold as many as 302 inmates.

Starting in August 2022, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and County leadership worked together with community leaders, public health and safety professionals, and finance experts to better understand the public safety needs of our community through an extensive public process. The Public Outreach Committee made a unanimous recommendation that a new jail was needed and a Jail District Question regarding funding for facilities and staffing should be decided by the voters.

“We saw firsthand the state of the jail. It’s clear that the current situation is unsustainable. The problems cannot be overcome with money. It’s at its end of life. Our opinion was that we face this issue head on and form the district. We unanimously agreed a new jail is needed. The district and the sales tax should be put to the voters." – Judge James Conlogue (Ret.), Cochise County Jail District Public Outreach Committee

State money is already part of the picture. Rep. Gail Griffin secured $20 million for the jail from the State of Arizona, contingent on the result of the Special Election. Nine out of fifteen counties statewide have a jail tax including both neighboring Santa Cruz and Graham Counties.

On January 24, 2023 the Board of Supervisors adopted Jail District Resolution 23-01, approving the ballot language for the May 16, 2023 Election, and Resolution 23-04 (amending Resolution 22-29) clarifying that the election for the question of the Cochise County Jail District is a mail ballot election.

Mail ballots will be sent to all active registered Cochise County voters on April 19, 2023, and the last day to register to vote in this Special Election is April 17, 2023.

A delegation from Cochise County led by Sheriff Mark Dannels and Judge James Conlogue (Ret.) will lead a series of informational Public Town Hall meetings in the last week of March and the first week of April to give voters the opportunity to find out more at first hand, as well as providing a Q&A session where questions will be addressed.

The meeting dates and locations are: 
(all meetings will be from 6:00pm – 8:00pm)

  • Sierra Vista (Monday March 27, 2023 – Cochise College Student Union Community Room)
  • Willcox (Wednesday March 29, 2023 – Willcox High School Auditorium)
  • Palominas (Friday March 31, 2023 – Palominas School Gymnasium)
  • Bisbee (Monday April 3, 2023 – Cochise County Board of Supervisors Hearing Room)
  • Douglas (Tuesday April 4, 2023 – City of Douglas Visitor Center)
  • Benson (Wednesday April 5, 2023 – Benson School District Multi-Purpose Building/Cafeteria)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

What is on the ballot?

The Jail District Question asks:  Shall the Cochise County Jail District levy an excise (sales) tax for a period of twenty-five (25) years at a maximum rate of not to exceed one half of one percent (.50%), or 1/2 cent, to be used only for acquiring, constructing, operating, maintaining, and financing of county jail facilities and a county jail system?

What would the funds be used for?

Arizona state law sets the purposes for which funds may be used: acquiring, constructing, operating, maintaining and financing county jails and jail systems.  As part of this, these resources would be used to invest in detention officer safety and the public safety of our community, provide help for the mentally ill, and help the jail manage ongoing medical and drug addiction needs.

Was the public involved in the process to call an election?

At the request of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, the Cochise County Board of Supervisors launched a transparent public process to explore the county jail needs, improvements, and potential costs to the taxpayers.  The Jail District Public Outreach Committee (Committee), made up of 12 individuals from throughout the community, worked together with public safety, public health professionals, and finance experts to better understand the issue.  The Committee focused on officer and inmate safety, the criminal justice system, crime and immigration challenges, transportation challenges, changes in technology, modern court proceedings, mental health needs, medical needs, tax and financial implications, and other factors.  The Committee made a unanimous recommendation that a new jail was needed and a Jail District Question regarding funding for facilities and staffing should be decided by the voters.

What role do jails play in our public safety?

Cochise County has the main jail in Bisbee and two substations (temporary holding facilities), one in Sierra Vista, and the other in Willcox.  These three facilities are responsible for housing all arrests made in all of the county by both the Sheriff’s Office and local police departments. These facilities hold inmates charged for everything from mental health-related issues to drug charges, juveniles charged with adult crimes, violent offenders, and much more. Our public safety infrastructure relies upon these facilities to meet the needs of our citizens, our community, and our region.

What are the challenges of the current jail?

The Cochise County Jail is significantly outdated and faces safety concerns, power capacity issues, plumbing problems, technological problems, leaks, and other costly repairs. It was originally designed to house 168 prisoners, but over the years, it has been modified to hold as many as 302 inmates.  A recent assessment of the Cochise County Jail found that the 40-year-old facility has lasted twice its expected life, but now faces maintenance costs that are estimated at several million dollars.  Changes in the inmate population over the last 40 years have also led to a need for increased help for the mentally ill who are incarcerated as well as a growing population with ongoing medical and opioid needs.  

Where can I find information on the new jail?

The construction of a new jail is a topic of great community wide concern. The County Sheriff’s Office will be engaging the public in a transparent process once the engineering, design and location site studies are underway. The funding of a jail district is the first step in this planning process because it will allow the County to determine the budget based on anticipated revenues. 

Can Cochise County just renovate the existing jail?

Over the years, the current facility has been modified to incorporate basic technologies like internet to accommodate radio communications, and many other modifications to meet increasing federal regulatory requirements.  Further renovations would be costly and would not address challenges to officer safety or space and staffing for 24-hour jail medical services.

Where can I learn more about the jail district and Jail District Public Outreach Committee Process?

All of the meetings have been public and you can review all of the agendas, minutes, and videos.

Why a sales tax?

The Jail District is a special district that must be funded by tax revenue. The sales tax structure would effectively spread the cost of jail construction, maintenance and operations to all people engaging in commercial activity within Cochise County, resident or otherwise.  The alternative would have been property tax paid solely by Cochise County property tax owners.

Is the tax permanent?

No.  This vote is for the approval of a temporary half-cent sales tax for no more than 25 years.  

Are there other funds available to help reduce costs? 

County officials are working with our federal elected officials to receive additional funding and recently secured a $20 million investment from the State of Arizona to help offset some of the costs – these investments, however, are contingent on the County raising sufficient monies to fund the remainder of the new jail project.