The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors can’t balance the county’s budget without closing the Yavapai County Jail in Prescott after voters rejected a jail district tax, supervisors determined Monday, Jan. 5.
A unanimous vote set Wednesday, April 1, as the closing date for the jail, at which time arrestees from the entire county will be transported to the Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde.
If voters had approved the quarter-cent jail tax on the November ballot, Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said he’d be having a different conversation with the board.
“This is where push comes to shove,” Tom Thurman, District 2 supervisor, said.
According to County Administrator Julie Ayers, 62 percent of the
county’s budget goes toward law enforcement and the county faces a $5.9 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2008-09. By FY 2009-10, the deficit could increase to $13.3 million.
Closing the Prescott jail will save the county $2.4 million to $2.6 million at a time when the jail district faces a potential $5 million deficit, Waugh said.
Closing the Prescott jail is the biggest cost saver the county’s found since it began cutbacks, District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said.
Prescott Police Chief Randy Oaks and Prescott Valley Police Chief Jim Maxson told the board they don’t want the jail to close because it would require them to transport anyone they arrest to Camp Verde at their expense.
Currently, police officers in both communities simply take prisoners to the Prescott jail.
Oaks and Maxson said transportation would take their officers off the streets for up to three hours at a time and neither have the capability to hold prisoners while they wait for transport.
County Attorney Sheila Polk said she supports Oaks and Maxson and doesn’t feel the county should pass expense onto communities to balance its budget.
“This is similar to unfunded [state and federal] mandates,” Polk said. She compared the situation to the Arizona Department of Transportation now charging counties, cities and towns for use of its crime lab.
“We are all in the same boat and we are in the midst of a heck of a storm,” Davis said.
Prescott and Prescott Valley have been getting a free ride, according to Waugh, and it’s not his job to balance their budgets. It’s his job to balance his.
“I have to live every day with the transportation issue,” Waugh said.
Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrest criminals all over the county and have to take them to the nearest jail. The closure will also inconvenience them, Waugh said. He wants to keep the Prescott jail open, but somebody has to pay for it.
Sedona, Cottonwood and Clarkdale police officers transport their prisoners to Camp Verde at the departments’ cost.
District 1 Supervisor Carol Springer said nobody likes the idea of closing the jail and voters rejecting the tax is a key component of the decision. The county will have to go to the voters again and ask them to reconsider at some point.
Supervisors discussed delaying the decision of when and if to close the jail. Thurman suggested giving Waugh, Oaks and Maxson until July to come up with a plan.
However, the supervisors decided the closure was inevitable and the sooner the doors are shut, the sooner the county begins saving money.
Waugh said he will keep the lines of communication open with Oaks and Maxson in an effort to come up with a transportation plan that could include cost sharing.