Pueblo County voters will be asked to increase their sales tax in an effort to build a new jail, detox center

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Pueblo County voters will be asked in November to increase their sales tax rate as part of efforts to battle jail

Pueblo County voters will be asked in November to increase their sales tax rate as part of efforts that could cost up to $150 million to battle jail overcrowding and get a handle on the local explosion of opioid abuse that officials are battling.

pueblo-county-voters-will-be-asked-to-increase-their-sales-tax-in-an-effort-to-build-a-new-jail-detox-center photo 1Photo provided by Pueblo County JailPueblo County jail screenshot taken from a task force report on how to improve the facility.

County commissioners on Wednesday approved a ballot question for the coming election asking that the county-wide sales tax be increased by nine-twentieths of a cent — or 45 percent of a penny — for the next 30 years starting in January.

That would generate an estimated $10.589 million of new annual revenue starting next year.

The money would pay for a new county jail and a rehabilitation and transformation of the current detention center into a state-of-the-art detoxification and health facility with a focus on opioid addiction.

The ballot questions come after months of community leaders working to find ways to solve problems at the jail and beyond.

“It’s been focused on how we can address the real roots of our social problems in our community,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz, who is leading the charge for the initiative.

The ballot question follows a report presented last month showing that of Colorado’s 10 largest counties, Pueblo County’s jail is the most over-crowded county jail operating at an average of 145 percent above its capacity. The conditions are putting detention deputies’ and inmates’ safety at risk and exacerbating the jail’s overall aging conditions, the report found.

The report, created by a task force aimed at identifying how to remedy issues at the 1980-vintage facility, found the overcrowding and safety hazards cost Pueblo County taxpayers about $1.8 million in 2017 and are projected to cost the county nearly $147. million by 2024 if the issues continue. There is also the potential for lawsuits stemming from the deteriorating conditions at the current jail, which include leaking sewage and regular inmate-on-inmate assaults.

The problems come as Pueblo County is leading Colorado in fatal heroin overdoses. The city of Pueblo has also seen a spike in violence that authorities have been able to battle back in the past 18 or so months with the help of federal resources.

Officials say the jail, when it was built, had a 30- to 35-year life span that is has now exceed. It was also only made to house 189 inmates. In 2006, it was expanded to include a 320-inmate dormitory, but nevertheless remains overcrowded.

The task force found that the best course of action to remedy the problems would be to repurpose the existing jail dormitory into a detox and treatment center and construct a new jail. That’s where the ballot question comes in.

The new jail, depending on where it’s built, is estimated to cost between $123 million and $139 million. The detox and treatment center would be created in the existing jail’s dormitory areas and cost between $8 million and $10 million.

The health center would have quadrants that could include areas for mental health treatment, addiction counseling and a secure detox area.

“We will have to partner with the private sector and some local providers to see what personnel they can bring to actually come in and staff those beds,” Ortiz said. “I would say the majority of it is going to go toward the opioid issue.”

Pueblo voters have been reluctant in recent years to approve other such public-safety funding initiatives, but Ortiz feels confident they will back the measure now, especially since all other options have been examined and ruled out.

“What’s different now is we have fully fleshed out what this treatment center would look like and what it would look like for the community,” he said. “I think locally people are really excited.”

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Article Pueblo County voters will be asked to increase their sales tax in an effort to build a new jail, detox center compiled by www.denverpost.com

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