Proceeds would go toward much-needed upgrades
By Marcy Stamper
Okanogan County voters are being asked on the Nov. 7 general election ballot to pay a higher sales tax that would raise money for upgrades to the county’s juvenile detention facility, which was built in 1973.
The facility has been in use since 1974 with only minor upgrades, according to a summary of the proposed tax by the Okanogan County Planning Department.
The county commissioners are seeking an increase of 1/10 of 1 percent in the county’s sales tax, which would add 10 cents to a $100 purchase, or $1 to a $1,000 purchase. The tax increase would collect approximately $640,000 annually.
The proceeds would be used solely to maintain, repair, equip and finance the county’s juvenile detention facility and would not go toward salaries, according to the Planning Department.
A state law allows counties to increase the sales tax by up to 1/10 of 1 percent specifically for juvenile detention facilities and jails.
Okanogan County’s juvenile justice center has 10 rooms, each with two beds. For the past five years, it has had an average daily population of 15 youths, according to the Planning Department.
The plan to upgrade the existing facility comes after an extensive review last year of the services provided for juveniles in Okanogan County’s facility by the previous board of county commissioners.
They heard presentations from the county’s juvenile facilities staff and from representatives of facilities in other counties. They compared costs of various options, including sending juveniles to an out-of-county facility.
The issue — particularly the prospect that the county’s youth might be sent to a facility near Spokane — generated concern from the public and county staff who work with youths. Input to the commissioners was uniformly opposed to sending young offenders out of the county.
After the fact-finding process, the commissioners decided to continue to use the local facility in Okanogan and to commission a thorough evaluation of the facility and any repairs and upgrades.
An evaluation of the juvenile facility was done earlier this year, along with an assessment of other county buildings, said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston. The county has begun to draft a list of priorities but have not developed a work plan yet, he said. The list includes improvements to fire suppression and other “bricks and mortar” upgrades.
The most urgent issues — including the roof, electronics and audio monitoring — have already been replaced or repaired, said Juvenile Court Administrator Dennis Rabidou during the fact-finding process last year.
The commissioners are tentatively earmarking half of the funds, if approved, to building upgrades, and half for programming, said Huston. Programming improvements could include things such as new classroom technology and rehab of areas used for counseling and behavior-management interventions.
If approved, the tax increase would be collected starting Jan. 1, 2018.