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Increased Jail Levy Coming To Columbia County Starting From May

Increased Jail Levy Coming To Columbia County Starting From May

With the expiration date for Columbia County’s jail levy looming in the distance, voters will decide on passing a new, higher tax to fund its operations.

The new levy will be on Columbia County ballots this May, and will ask voters to raise property taxes 29 cents per $1,000 assessed property value — to 87 cents per $1,000 — to account for increased jail operating costs.

Columbia County voters approved a similar levy in 2014, and voted twice to renew the levy at its current rate in 2017 and 2020 . That levy taxed property at a rate of 58 cents per $1,000 of assessed value and is set to expire this year. Voters also approved a levy to fund the the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office last year, which taxes property at a rate of 29 cents per $1,000.

In total, Columbia County residents would be paying $1.16 per $1,000 assessed property value for county-level law enforcement, if the measure passes.

Since the jail levy was last renewed, costs to operate the jail have increased, according to the county.

The jail draws funding from three primary sources: Columbia County’s general fund, revenue from the existing levy and bed rentals by U.S. Marshal’s Service to house federal prisoners. The Columbia County jail accepts federal prisoners, and the costs to house those individuals is reimbursed by the federal government.

According to a summary that will be included with the ballot measure, revenue from federal bed rentals decreased during the pandemic, while operating costs at the jail increased substantially.

In the last four years, jail medical costs have more than doubled from about $630,000 in the 2019-20 fiscal year, to $1.5 million this fiscal year, according to the summary. The county says the jail will not be able to operate fully without the new levy.

If passed, the levy will fund jail operating costs through the 2027-28 fiscal year. The county estimates it could collect $5.5 million in fiscal year 2024-25, $5.8 million in fiscal year 2025-26, $6 million in fiscal year 2026-27 and $6.6 million in fiscal year 2027-28, for a total of nearly $24 million.

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