Weber County voters reject jail bond measure, officials to keep focus on issue
OGDEN — Weber County voters solidly rebuffed a proposed bond issue of up to $98 million to help upgrade the Weber County Jail and build a new sheriff’s office facility.
The ballot question, had it been approved in Tuesday’s voting, would have boosted taxes on a home worth $468,000, the average in Weber County, by $54.09 a year, and aversion to tax increases likely factored in the no vote. “I understand the public’s frustration with property taxes,” said County Commissioner Gage Froerer, noting increases by school districts and cities across Weber County in the last two years.
Even so, the issues at the jail that spurred the measure — inadequate medical and mental health care for inmates, notably — remain and both Froerer and Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon said the problems still need to be addressed. They’ll keep searching for solutions, they said.
“We will definitely look at that in 2024,” said Froerer, who personally backed the bond question. If officials are to try another route, he suspects the plans may have to be scaled back to lower the price tag of up to $98 million. Moreover, officials will have to consider other funding mechanisms.
“We still have the problems. We’ve got to find other ways to address them,” said Arbon. “It’s a heavy lift.”
According to preliminary vote totals released late Wednesday afternoon, reflecting 99% of ballots cast, the jail bond question failed 23,395 votes to 17,241 votes. That’s a 57.6%-42.4% split.
The plans, as proposed, had called for conversion of administrative offices in the sheriff’s office building at 1400 Depot Drive into jail space. A 48-bed section would have been built in the larger jail footprint for inmates with mental health and medical issues. As is, there are now just six medical cells.
Moreover, a new four-story facility, the Weber Justice Center, would have been built on vacant county-owned land north of the existing sheriff’s office. Sheriff’s office administrative and investigative functions would have moved to the new building. Significantly, the new building would also have housed a minimum-security facility for inmates in the work-release program and space for social workers who would help inmates prepare for release from jail and reentry into society.
Modernizing the 23-year-old facility was another aim of the upgrade proposal as well as introducing more programming to combat recidivism among inmates.
The public covers the cost of dealing with inmates “one way or another,” Froer said, whether housing them in jails or providing programming aimed at keeping them out of jails once they leave. He would rather use funds on programming meant to turn inmates into productive members of the community, as envisioned with the proposal that voters rebuffed.
Arbon offered thanks to those who backed the proposal, including family members of inmates, medical and mental health professionals and others. His message to them is that “we have more work to do and we look forward to their continued support,” he said.
Weber County officials have been parsing the jail issues and how to address them for three to four years. Looking forward, Froerer said officials could consider tax-revenue bonding, use of fund balances or a mix of possibilities to bolster the jail offerings. “We just really need to look at the numbers,” he said.
Prioritizing jail needs will also likely be a focus of future deliberations to scale back the price tag in the ballot question of up to $98 million. Whatever comes out of future talks among county officials “won’t be the same proposal,” Froerer said.