ASOTIN — Asotin County officials are backing a plan to build a new jail with sales tax revenue.

At Monday’s commission meeting, the three-member board unanimously approved a resolution to run a 0.3 percent sales tax increase on the November ballot that would only be used for the construction and operations of a new corrections facility.

“Sales tax is a nice way to fund the jail because it’s not on the backs of property owners,” Commissioner Jim Jeffords said. “It’s a tax that all folks who purchase goods and services in Asotin County will help pay.”

If voters approve the measure, the cities of Asotin and Clarkston have agreed to turn over their portions of the additional tax revenue to the county jail project. Interlocal agreements with both entities were unanimously approved in July.

An advisory panel of law enforcement officers, elected officials and citizens has been meeting on a weekly basis for months to research the best options for the overcrowded and outdated jail. The group’s recommendation calls for new construction, because there is no room for expansion at the current site.

“This committee has really done the work,” Jeffords said. “I’m really happy with where we started and where we are now.”

After thanking the jail advisory committee for diligently working on possible solutions, Commissioner Brian Shinn voiced his gratitude to both city councils for supporting the “community endeavor.”

“Most of all I’d like to thank the cities of Asotin and Clarkston for joining us in a team effort to do this,” Shinn said.

Officials are hoping to gain voter approval to use sales taxes to build a jail with about 145 beds on county-owned property, possibly near Evans Road and the Asotin County Regional Landfill. The exact site has yet to be determined.

Jeffords said an architectural consultant from Florida has been chosen to help with concept designs, site location and promotional activities. Real estate excise tax money will be used to pay for the $39,800 contract with Clemons Rutherford and Associates of Tallahassee. Representatives from the firm have agreed to attend four town hall meetings this fall to help explain the project to the public, Jeffords said.

In other county business:

l Asotin County officials plan to meet with fire chiefs from Lewiston, the Asotin Fire District and Blue Mountain Fire District to discuss running an emergency medical services levy next year to pay for ambulance calls to outlying areas, such as Anatone, Cloverland and the Snake River Road corridor.

Officials said the county recently received a bill for about $6,000 from the Lewiston Fire Department for EMS services provided outside the fire district this year. A property tax levy of a few cents per $1,000 valuation would cover those costs, Asotin County Fire Chief Noel Hardin said.

Commissioner Chris Seubert said it only seems fair to ask those areas to contribute, since residents inside the fire district are already paying for EMS.

l Public Works Director Dustin Johnson said the “Cliffs Project” on Snake River Road will be delayed about a year because of additional requirements from the state to complete a conditional-use permit for the retaining wall portion of the plan.

“We have a few weeks of flexibility built into the schedule, but three months will push the project back far enough to make it infeasible to construct due to high water in the spring runoff,” Johnson said. “We are temporarily suspending the bid for this project so we can work out all the necessary permitting with (the Department of Ecology).”

The bad news is the project will be delayed for a year, he said, but the good news is the project is still going to get built, and the road will be safer because of it.

l Bids for the Heights Elementary School sidewalk project came in too high, so another round of bidding will be conducted this winter or in early spring. One bid was triple the engineer’s estimate, Johnson told the commissioners.

Officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation have indicated bids on local projects are coming in high across the state, with some not getting any responses during the busy summer months.

“This is a reflection of how well the economy is going right now,” Johnson said.

l Commissioner Shinn said he met with U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers last week to enlist her help in preventing the Nez Perce Tribe from enrolling the Clarkston Golf and Country Club in tax-exempt tribal trust land. The land and structures bring in about $14,000 a year in property taxes.

According to Shinn, the tribe signed an agreement in 2004 that says land used for economic development could not be exempted after 2014. However, the ultimate decision on the golf course will be made at the federal level by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“We do not want property taken off the tax rolls,” Shinn said. “It’s pretty simple.”

Sandaine may be contacted at kerris@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.

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