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Supervisors Give Themselves Until ’88 to Sell Voters on Tax Hike for Jail

Times County Bureau Chief

In an effort to lower election costs and raise the chances of success at the polls, county supervisors decided Thursday not to ask voters for a property-tax increase to pay for a new jail until November of 1988.

Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said that holding off for 15 months--until the 1988 general election--before asking voters to approve a general-obligation bond measure to fund the jail construction with increased property taxes would give the county “very ample time to get ready.”

A two-thirds vote would be needed for passage.

In a presidential election year, Stanton said, “My gut feeling is that you do have probably a more propitious time in that window, because public safety and crime are certainly debates that always take place in a presidential election, so I think there’s a lot of synergy with having the election in November of 1988.”

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The supervisors had been given the choice of holding the election this November or in June or November of next year. The deadline for getting the bond on this year’s ballot is Aug. 7.

Stanton said it would be much cheaper to wait until November, 1988. The estimated cost of putting the measure on the ballot this November was $600,000. Waiting a year would cut that to perhaps $50,000, according to the county administrative office, because next year there will be federal and state elections, and the federal and state governments help bear expenses.

The supervisors decided to determine later whether to combine or keep separate bond measures for the new jail in Gypsum-Coal canyons east of Anaheim Hills and for new court facilities.

They also deferred a decision on how much money to seek initially. Suggested amounts were $249 million for the first phase of the jail--for perhaps 3,000 inmates, according to county officials--and $156 million for a new central court in the Civic Center area of Santa Ana.

Both Stanton and Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez are up for re-election next year. Although they would face a November runoff if they failed to win the June primary, neither expressed concern about seeking election at the same time they are asking voters to raise their taxes.

Stanton said: “I don’t anticipate being in a runoff in June, so the question never came up, (but) I wouldn’t care if the (jail bond ballot) was in June.”

In separate action during hearings on the county’s budget for fiscal 1987-88, the supervisors voted Thursday, 3 to 2, to spend $6 million on a report spelling out the impact on the environment of building the jail in the canyons, as well as preliminary design and engineering work.

Supervisor Don R. Roth--who along with Vasquez voted July 15 against putting the jail in the canyons and voted Thursday against spending the $6 million--said doing either of those things made no sense until the board knew how it was going to pay for the jail.

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Supervisor Thomas F. Riley jokingly suggested that a “magic fairy” might let the supervisors find another way to pay for the jail, perhaps through certificates of participation or a lease-back arrangement.

Neither type of funding would require voter approval, but each would be more expensive than general-obligation bonds, according to county analysts.

County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish told supervisors July 8 that a review of recent voting trends offered little hope “that a ballot measure to increase taxes for jail facilities would be successful in Orange County.”

For one thing, the bruising battle to put the jail in the canyons rather than three other possible sites left a legacy of bitterness from residents of Yorba Linda, Placentia and Anaheim Hills, who are near the site. For another, county voters have traditionally opposed tax increases.

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Current plans call for the jail to cost more than $600 million at completion and to hold nearly 6,200 inmates.

The last time the county asked voters to approve general-obligation bonds was 1956. The voters approved additions to the hospital the county ran at the time, as well as acquisition of land for an industrial farm. But they rejected $9.5 million sought to build a court, jail and county offices in Santa Ana.


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