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Spokane city leaders, corrections officer union, call for jail ballot measure delay

Rebecca White/SPR
The downtown Spokane County Jail as seen in Spring, 2021.

Leaders of the Spokane City Council and the union that represents corrections officers have asked the county to delay a $1.7 billion ballot measure aimed at building a new jail. In ajoint lettersent Monday, they argued the county hasn’t communicated a clear plan for the new facility.

The ballot measure, a .2% sales tax, is set to go before voters in November. It’ll pay for a new jail and programs. About $700 million will go to cities to spend on public safety issues.

Spokane City Council President Lori Kinnear said the its one of several tax increases voters will be asked to weigh in on this year, at a time when most are facing a rising cost of living. She said cities also need more time to determine what they can, and should spend the money on.

“We want to be prepared, if it does pass, but I'm just concerned it won't and then we've missed our chance to talk about what we really need in detail,” Kinnear said. “People want detail, they don't just want to see, "oh, we want a jail," well ok, what does that look like?"

Some general outlines for the money have been discussed during Spokane County Commissioners meetings, such as the plan to mothball the Geiger facility, an old military barrack that currently houses inmates, and build a second building beside the existing downtown jail.

Scott Davies, representative of the Spokane County Corrections Officer Union, said many officers are concerned the county won’t have enough time to create and effectively communicate a plan for the new facility.

“We are in support of a new jail, we just want to have a better plan in place so this doesn't fail,” he said.

He said they’re concerned that if the measure fails, the county will need to revise, run a measure again, delaying the construction of a new, safer facility even further.

Last month, county commissioners Al French, Josh Kerns and Mary Kuney, shot down a similar proposalfrom commissioners Amber Waldref and Chris Jordan. The majority trio said a jail had been publicly discussed for years, and is needed to address increases in crime.

In an interview Tuesday, Kerns said the county had been discussing the details in public, and a full public information campaign is planned. He said they will have a website up in the next few days, but had to wait for an attorney to review it to make sure the county was not engaging in electioneering. State law allows local governments to only provide educational information about ballot measures, and bars them from campaigning.

He said he has no plans to delay the measure.

“It’s time to listen to the voters and they'll tell us, is this something that you see value in, or is it not?" he said. "I'm not afraid to hear what the voters say."

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.