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Oklahoma County jail plan, sales tax votes put on hold

BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: March 11, 2013

District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan said he believes polling results indicated it would take an expensive marketing campaign and significant support from corporate donors to garner enough votes to pass a sales tax.

“That's a bunch of rhetoric to simply put, this is not going to pass,” said Maughan, who has been the lone commissioner to oppose a new jail.

Alternative plan

Sheriff John Whetsel said on Friday he has developed in the interim an alternative plan that would call for a much smaller annex to be constructed adjacent the current jail.

Whetsel, who already has spent upward of $10 million to address deficiencies identified by the U.S. Justice Department, said he would like the commissioners to consider building a “core facilities” annex that would house the jail's medical, kitchen and laundry operations.

The annex also might include dormitory space for as many as 600 inmates, which would reduce the population at the current jail enough to make the remaining deficiencies moot, he said.

It could be built on vacant land just south of the current jail, he said.

“I think the slowness of this process has been very helpful, because it has given us the opportunity to think, to come up with some alternatives, and whatever is decided upon, it will have been a well-thought-out process,” Whetsel said.

But Vaughn said he's not too excited about Whetsel's proposal.

Yes, the annex could be built for significantly cheaper than a new jail — $150 million, Vaughn estimated — but the inordinate maintenance and operational costs at the current jail would continue.

“It's favorable in the way of costs, but it might not be as favorable in the long run,” Vaughn said. “We've had that proposal before, and all the consultants have said no.”

Vaughn said county commissioners have until August to put a sales tax proposal on the ballot in time to meet the October deadline.