Hoping the third time is the charm, Custer County commissioners voted Sept. 5 to again ask voters to authorize the sale of up to $4.5 million in bonds to provide funds to remodel the existing courthouse and build a new jail.
The question will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Voters have twice turned down the question, with the necessary two-thirds of voters failing to support it last November and in May.
In two months voters will be asked to approve a $4.5 million bond issue at an interest rate of 3.44 percent for 20 years. That puts taxpayers on the hook to repay a total of $6.5 million when the nearly $1.99 million of interest is added to the project cost.
The estimated annual increased cost to taxpayers is $48 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. A taxpayer who qualifies for a homeowner’s exemption on a $100,000 home would see his or her taxes increase on half the value, or by $24 per year.
The county currently has no bonded indebtedness.
The county plans to spend up to $3 million from its payments in lieu of taxes savings account to pay part of the costs of the new jail and courthouse remodeling work.
The commissioners and Sheriff Stu Lumpkin have repeatedly said Custer County’s existing 107-year-old jail is out of compliance with state and federal standards and is too small to house its inmate population. The county spends money to pay deputies to drive inmates to and from other jails to court appearances in Challis and pays other counties to house those inmates. When deputies are taken away from patrol duties it potentially compromises public safety, they say.
County officials also say the courthouse is in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s only a matter of time before the county is sued in connection to both issues, they believe.
Commission Chairman Wayne Butts was in Washington, D.C., last week lobbying for the National Association of Counties to adopt a resolution to create a fee system to reimburse small rural counties with large tracts of federal land for lost property tax revenue. This happens when private property is sold and returned to the federal government by conservation organizations, thus decreasing the tax base.