Davis County Sheriff Bud Cox is cautiously optimistic voters will approve a $24.8 million general obligation bond to expand the jail at the polls next Tuesday.
Nearly two years ago, when the possibility of the jail bond was first made public, residents expressed their disapproval along with outrage over a proposed 138 percent increase in the county's portion of property taxes.
At the December 2002 tax hearing, dozens of people spoke, fueled by anger over the tax hike, and most of them said they also were against spending nearly $25 million to build a jail addition. At that time, the jail was 11 years old.
Now, nearly two years later, residents seem more open to building a jail after a citizen committee spent nine months studying the issue and reported favorably on the need for the addition. The report is on the county's Web site, www.daviscountyutah.gov.
Cox said the bond proposal has received several endorsements, which he find encouraging, while there seems to be little or no vocal opposition. "All the cities have come out in favor of the expansion," he said, "and while the Utah Taxpayers Association won't endorse it, at least they haven't opposed it."
The Citizens for Tax Fairness, a group that earlier opposed the South Davis Recreation District, has reluctantly given its support for the bond.
The Utah Taxpayers Association will not support the jail bond because of too many tax issues before the public on the Nov. 2 ballot, Vice President Mike Jerman said. "Public safety is a core critical function of government and the jail certainly fits into that description. For us, the broader issue here is all the tax increases proposed in Davis County."
Davis County has more tax increases proposed than any other county in the state, according to Jerman. "The school district raised taxes during the summer, five south Davis cities raised taxes when the recreation district bond was approved, and Commissioner Carol Paige is promoting Initiative 1, which will be another tax increase."
Although neither Cox nor county officials can get a feel for what county residents are thinking, clerk/auditor Steve Rawlings told commissioners Tuesday his office has processed a record number of new registered voters since June's primary.
"We've registered more than 20,000 voters and about 80 percent of them in the past five weeks," Rawlings said. "We're excited about voter turnout this year." Nearly 8,000 voters have voted already in early balloting at the clerk's office in the historic Memorial Courthouse in Farmington, he said. That number compares to about 200 last year.
"I ask people what is stimulating their interest, whether it's the jail bond, or the presidential election or something else, and there is no one answer," Rawlings said. "Their answers are across the board."
The Davis County Jail, built to hold 192 inmates in 1991, has had as many as 551 inmates and has been severely overcrowded in recent years, Cox said. Its physical facilities, particularly the kitchen and laundry, are worked to the breaking point and overcrowding is causing safety problems for both inmates and staff, he said.