The choice is clear

Pig in a Poke - Budget Heist and Land Scam?

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A poke is a sack or bag. It has a French origin as ‘poque’. Pig in a poke refers to when something is sold or bought without the buyer knowing its true nature or value. For it may not be a pig in that poke, it could be a cat. This is why so many citizens have been trying to let this cat - this county prison tax fiasco - out of the bag. No matter how you slice or dice this proposal, none of it runs clear and all that is certain is that taxpayers are going to get a good poking - and not in a nice way. The bag will be full of our money and on it’s way to Ferndale.

The prison tax proposal is a pig in a poke because its sense of necessity is built on omission, obfuscation, negligence, misfeasance, nonfeasance, and possibly malfeasance.

Omission? In the County’s own rational for a big, flat, remote (BFR) jail, two jail planning documents are cited - one from the Department of Justice and another from National Institute of Corrections. The conclusion drawn by the County is that a BFR jail will be cheaper. They left out the part where the documents state that a direct connection to the courthouse is the most important factor and that if land is available there, that’s where the jail should go. They caution that the operational expenses of prisoner transport from a remote location will soon outstrip the higher capital costs of a vertical jail. That’s a whopping omission.

Obfuscation? They assert the jail is overcrowded, but did you know that, even if released at a morning hearing, you remain in jail until everyone has been processed in. When do you think they count the jail population? Further, as the Vera Institute found, the vast majority of detainees are technically innocent and are in the jail either due to their inability to meet cash bails, or by the prosecutor constantly filing continuances or heaping on additional charges.

Would we need to spend hundreds of millions if the jail wasn’t stuffed with the innocent? Nevertheless, the County has never completed a competent needs assessment, has not engaged anything resembling a normal public review, won’t provide comprehensive statistics or any definite plan, and won’t consider how implementing incarceration reduction policies will affect jail size. There is a long line of carts before this horse, so many it’s hard to see the stables. This whole plan reeks from all the smoke and mirrors. That’s obfuscation, and it stinks.

Negligence? They keep saying the jail is crumbling, but their own consultant says the building is evidently quite sound and in need only of minor structural upgrades. It will take more to upgrade the existing jail to modern standards, but a lot less than building a new one. Anyway, the reason the jail has deteriorated is because they simply neglected to keep it in repair. That’s some very deep structure negligence in our county administration.

Misfeasance? The County is on record saying they didn’t want to spend money on the old jail while still hoping for a new jail. There is nothing illegal about deferring maintenance on public structures in general, but is it appropriate, especially with a jail? That’s misfeasance.

Nonfeasance? It definitely isn’t appropriate to defer maintenance when the building is used to detain citizens, most of whom are innocent. Even those convicted have basic rights. By the County’s own admission, conditions in the jail are inhumane. That very key point in their argument for a new jail is a damning charge against county officials for violating civil rights and causing direct physical and psychological harm. They routinely throw folks into unhealthy, dangerous confinement. That’s actually criminal. They have a duty and failed to perform it. That’s nonfeasance.

Possible Malfeasance? When you scratch around this giant County effort and find none of it making sense, you just look to the money. Yes. It’s the property. Not just the outrageous price paid for the stinking, polluted proposed jail site, but all the other property around the site and stretching toward Ferndale. There are several holdings in the vicinity with very similarly abbreviated LLC names listing the same agent offices, in both Ferndale and, you might have guessed, Sedro Woolley, with the sellers of the jail site.

The very argument officials make for the Ferndale location - though it doesn’t truthfully apply to the existing jail - applies directly to the county courthouse. It actually is crumbling. So if the jail is relocated to Ferndale, they can turn the arguments around and assert that everyone was right all along! The jail should be near the courthouse! Let’s move the courthouse out to Ferndale! And of course there are all those lawyers, service providers, bond agencies and the like that will want to be there, too. So the wholesale development of marginal farmland into a Law & Order District will make several someones a lot of money. Perhaps the mass extension of utilities to the area, ostensibly for an industrial area, was actually part of a foresightful plan, albeit one that has remained in the shadows. Let’s move the county seat to Ferndale! Shadowy plans are almost always malfeasant.

These few examples of the much lying and cheating underlying the proposal are all good reasons to reject the plan. Why reward such bad behavior? They failed to perform their duty with three prior taxes. But there’s another more compelling reason: Lions eat lambs.

This tax proposal is a blatant budget heist. It guarantees that so-called justice will continue to be the largest and fastest growing chunk of the county budget. That means there will be no money for other programs or amenities. Now instead of the jail deteriorating, it will be parks, trails, museums and the like. Fewer potholes will get repaired. Fewer roads improved. There won’t even be taxing capacity left for other public safety services. Traditional last place budget items will simply drop off the cliff, like arts and culture, community and homeless services. And things that must receive more attention, like water quality and water rights will just have to wait until funding sources are reinvented. That’s usually more taxes.

Just say no to this ridiculous plan to hijack the budget and county seat. Let’s work on reducing the justice component of the budget and work toward truly more humane incarceration reduction measures. Remember, it’s our family, friends and neighbors that get hurt.

Vote REJECTED to the jail tax.

About Tip Johnson

Writer • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

Comments by Readers

Joy Gilfilen

Nov 04, 2017

That is one Hell Of a Note.   

Thank you Tip, for doing all the work you do.   

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