Lewis and Clark County voters passed a 15-year, $4 million annual operations levy Tuesday to operate a remodeled Lewis and Clark County Detention Center and add additional programming.

With all but provisional ballots counted, the levy passed on a nearly 10 point margin of 54.91 percent to 45.09 percent, with 11,807 for and 9,697 against. The results are not considered official until canvassed. 

Passage of the levy comes a year after voters narrowly approved a $6.5 million general obligation bond to transform all three floors of the detention center into jail space, which would make room for 154 inmates. While approving the bond, a levy to operate the facility was voted down in that election. 

Advocates for a new jail came out this year with a renewed appeal to voters, and Lewis and Clark County Commission Chairwoman Susan Good Geise said Tuesday she thanked those who worked to pass the levy.

“I just wanted them to know how much we value the work they did and now we’ll complete the work we’ve begun,” she said. “We appreciate the voters’ seal of approval, we know it was a big ask, and will do everything to spend every dime raised wisely. We’re ecstatic. We’re delighted. And mostly we’re grateful.”

Most of the levy, roughly $2.5 million, will provide new staff, including 33 phased-in detention officer positions. An additional $775,000 in technology upgrades and $750,000 for “jail diversion and risk prevention” programs officials is also funded.

Diversion and prevention provides risk assessment to evaluate inmates for mental health or addiction issues, as well as works with low-risk inmates to keep them out of jail while awaiting trial.

The jail currently does not evaluate inmates’ mental health at the time of incarceration, and mental health services both in and out of the jail aim to lower the rate of re-offending.

Prevention and diversion programs funded through the levy include $200,000 for a mental health therapist/case manager, $45,000 for an early intervention commander, and $325,000 for pre-trial services. Those services include restorative justice, which allows inmates to meet with victims to repair damage from crimes, volunteer programs, and early intervention and supervision programs.

The levy also provides $145,000 aimed at preventing repeat offenses, crisis funding, journey home funding and drop-in center funding.

Remodeling plans from the bond include turning the entirety of the three-floor building into space for inmates by converting two floors of office space. Inmate capacity would rise from roughly 80, although the jail is designed to house 54, to 154 beds and allow all county inmates to be housed. Currently the county spends about $250,000 per year housing overflow inmates in other county jails. That cost does not include transportation, medical and other costs incurred by the county.

The levy will increase the property taxes on a home valued at $100,000 by $42.86 annually, while a home valued at $200,000 would have an $85.72 increase in its tax bill.

Sheriff Leo Dutton said that the voters’ voices have been heard and the county will be fair stewards of the money.

“I’m very, very blessed and I’m extremely grateful for all of those involved to help us out to make some positive steps to relieve the crowding and make the detention center safer for our officers,” he said.

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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