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2013 review: Jail on the brink after failed levy push

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office had warned that the county jail, built a little more than 10 years ago with an ambitious maximum capacity for inmates, was in crisis due to dwindling revenues. But the jail’s woes came into full focus when it slashed beds for local suspects and offenders from 65 to 25 at the start of July (“County officials sign off on jail bed reductions,” June 14).

The three-man Board of County Commissioners quickly settled on a plan to revive the flagging jail, which law enforcement officials predicted would eventually have to close without additional funding (“Commissioners put jail levy on November ballot,” Aug. 9). But the $9.57 million operating levy the county placed on the Nov. 5 ballot ran into criticism.

The county avoided making Sheriff Jeff Dickerson, who led an unsuccessful push for a sheriff’s levy in 2011, the face of its campaign this year. But the levy effort suffered from a lack of visibility, and a passel of good-government advocates led by Scappoose businessman Brady Preheim rose up in the closing weeks of the campaign to challenge the county’s claims about the jail and criticize county officials for not being more proactive in discussing jail funding issues (“Jail levy campaign enters home stretch,” Oct. 25).

Voters ultimately rejected the levy option by a 16.6-point margin (“Jail levy fails by double-digit margin,” Nov. 8), leaving county officials scrambling for a backup plan. Dickerson outlined options at a public meeting later in November (“County officials seek jail strategy,” Nov. 29), and another meeting is planned for next month (“Jail meeting set for Jan. 14,” Dec. 20) — a belated response, perhaps, to Preheim and others who called for greater public outreach in the run-up to the vote.