Voters overwhelmingly approve county jail tax

One-quarter percent tax extended for 20 years

The mental health unit at the Yavapai County jail in Camp Verde. (Max Efrein/Courier)

The mental health unit at the Yavapai County jail in Camp Verde. (Max Efrein/Courier)

An overwhelming 76 percent of Yavapai County voters agree: The jail tax should go on as it has for nearly two decades.

By a more than three-to-one margin Tuesday, May 15, county voters extended the existing one-quarter percent jail tax for another 20 years — effectively taking the sales tax out to 2040.

That means the county can continue to operate its jail district much as it has since 1999, when the original one-quarter percent tax elicited support from a similarly large majority of county voters.

Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher said the extension of the tax and the jail district would allow his department to continue a number of crucial mental health and substance abuse diversion programs that help prevent recidivism in the jails.

“I’m just really happy we have the support to maintain the jail district,” Mascher said late Tuesday. “We live in a safe place, and we want to continue that.”

Rowle Simmons, chairman of the Yavapai County Supervisors, expressed relief Tuesday evening after hearing the results.

If the vote had gone the other way, Simmons said, “It was going to be tough. We basically warned all the departments that all of the budgets would have been back on the drawing board.”

Currently, the tax generates nearly $9 million, which goes toward the $18.1 million in annual costs for the operation and maintenance of the county jail.

County officials had previously warned that if the tax were to fail, that revenue would have to be made up — through higher use fees for cities and towns in the county, by cutting back in services, and through higher property taxes.

“I’m happy to say this year we don’t have to raise property taxes,” County Supervisor Tom Thurman said Tuesday night. “I think people understand the need to have the ability to incarcerate the ones who have done wrong, and continue our diversion programs.”

Although the initial results released just after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday were unofficial, the margin of approval appeared large enough to negate the effects of the 700 or so ballots that still needed to be counted.

In the first round of results, 50,438 ballots had been counted. That amounted to about 37.5 percent of the 134,112 registered voters in the county.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.