EL RENO — Faced with a critically crowded jail, Canadian County officials turned twice to the voters for help. Both times, the voters said no.
So county commissioners came up with a way to provide cell space for years into the future, without a tax increase. Construction is a few months from completion on a $4.9 million, 120-bed dormitory-style addition adjacent to the existing jail.
In 2008, county voters rejected a 35-cent sales tax to pay for a new county jail. Three years later, another plan met defeat at the polls.
That forced commissioners to take a step back and come up with a way to build jail space without raising taxes, said Board of Commissioners Chairman David Anderson.
“Ideally we would have built a much larger facility,” Anderson said of the project that began in November, “but this was what we could do.”
Built in the mid-1980s, the jail was designed to hold 72 inmates. Occupancy had climbed to about 100 before the state fire marshal gave the county a mandate about a decade ago to hold the jail population to 72.
Commissioners sought approval in May 2008 of a 35-cent, 15-year sales tax to finance a $25 million county jail, but the proposal was defeated 2,985 to 1,321.
In April 2011, commissioners proposed diverting 0.1 percent from the 35-cent tax that supported the Gary E. Miller Children's Justice Center for financing construction of a jail. That proposal lost by a vote of 4,806 to 4,332.
After the 2011 election, Anderson said, commissioners “scoped the jail down to a size we could afford.”
“We've been able to borrow money based on our receipts. We're paying for this out of the general fund, with no bond or new taxes,” Anderson said.
In 2008, the county made arrangements to house prisoners in Dewey, Grant and Pottawatomie counties.
“We make it work,” said jail administrator Capt. Robert Stuart. The multicounty prisoner housing solution continues while construction proceeds.
Construction of the 18,000-square-foot jail addition is about two weeks ahead of schedule, Anderson said, with completion expected in late October. The target date for inmates to move into the revamped jail is Nov. 1.
The extra space should bring total capacity to about 200 prisoners, Anderson said. The current inmate census averages 175 to 180 prisoners spread across the four counties.