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  • Writer's pictureJohannes Becht

Kiowa County voters to decide on sales tax for new jail



HOBART — Plumbing and electrical issues, boarded-up windows, rust, exterior cracks — current Kiowa County Detention Center in Hobart, right next to the court, has a lot of problems.


Now, county officials wants to replace it, and will ask voters to approve an additional 1 percent county sales tax to fund the project.


The special election will be held Tuesday in Kiowa County. Voters have to decide over the 1 percent sales tax increase that comes in addition to all other existing county sales taxes. That would lift the total county sales tax from currently 0.5 percent, a rate which is among the lowest in the State of Oklahoma, to 1.5 percent, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.


The maximum possible sales tax in Kiowa County would increase from 9 percent to 10 percent, depending on the city’s or town’s own sales tax rates.


The tax increase is supposed to expire in 2048 or upon the payment of any indebtedness secured by the tax, according to a sample ballot. It is supposed to be only used to fund the “construction, renovation, equipping, and improvement” of the new jail, according to the sample ballot.


“The building is the oldest active jail in Oklahoma,” Kiowa County Sheriff Joe Janz said. “It doesn’t meet the standards of today.”


The building is 119 years old, and the age shows, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Parts of the floors are deteriorating to an extent that the sub-floor can be seen. Plumbing leaks haven taken a toll on ceilings, walls and coatings. Electrical issues are mounting. Almost all of the windows are boarded up, thereby creating a security risk. Rust is building up. Also, it is not handicapped accessible.


And, to make matters worse, the Sheriff’s Office blames the escape of two inmates on “the way the old jail is set up” and “antiquated locking mechanisms that have been fixed,” according to the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.


A completely new stand-alone jail would cost Kiowa County $12.5 million. A remodeling of the old National Guard armory, which currently houses the jail, is estimated at $8.35 million, according to the sheriff. The building is already used for administrative offices, the County’s Election Board, and the Sheriff’s Office field operations. Remodeling the facility would bring the jail and the Sheriff’s Office under one roof.


A huge junk of the projected $8.35 million is needed for the actual jail, due to regulations and requirements for detention centers. Therefore, Janz said, the current building would be used as jail, while an extension would be built for office space, “because it’s cheaper.” On its Facebook page, the Sheriff’s Office estimated a revenue of $817,000 each year for the 1 percent additional sales tax.


“We’re trying to be smart about spending our money,” he said.


Not everybody seems entirely happy about the new jail, however, particularly when it comes to the location. Some Facebook users raised concerns about the proximity of the detention center to Hobart’s Elementary, Middle and High School.


If the voters disapprove of the county’s proposition, Kiowa County might be forced to transfer inmates to detention centers of neighboring counties.


The County Commissioners could not be reached for comment.

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