Oklahoma County jail plan, sales tax votes put on hold

BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: March 11, 2013
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A plan to put a $281 million jail proposal before Oklahoma County voters this spring is on hold, and a jail sales tax ballot drafted by the county likely will not go before voters this spring as planned.

The decision to delay a vote on the half-cent sales tax comes on the heels of a voter survey, but Ray Vaughn, chairman of the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners, would not directly attribute the plan's slowdown to the survey results.

Instead, Vaughn said he has implored the U.S. Department of Justice to relax or terminate its threats to take over the jail.

“We're just kind of waiting on their final stance, I think, and then that will kind of give us the direction that we need to go,” Vaughn said.

“They're the ones driving this train.”

The county agreed in 2008 to address 60 different civil rights violations outlined by federal authorities, and so far all but four of those have been fixed, Vaughn said.

The deadline for presenting a plan of compliance is October, he said, and the four deficiencies that remain will require either an entirely new building or significant alterations to the 13-story tower currently in use downtown.

A report issued in November by a consulting group outlined three options:

• A new jail, at a cost of $281 million, including land acquisition.

• Renovation of the current jail, including an annex, for $253 million.

• Renovation of only the bottom floors of the current jail for $259 million.

The consulting group recommended the first option after considering additional operating cost savings that would be recognized in the new facility on an annual basis.

Vaughn said in December that he expected the sales tax vote to go before voters this month.

But after hearing the results of the voter survey, he is now vague on a specific timeline.

Results of the survey, conducted by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, are not public, but at least one county elected official said he heard the news was not good.