Custer County voters are being asked to consider raising the sales and use tax by 2 percent to cover the cost of a new justice center to the tune of about $18 million.
It’s a big-ticket expenditure for a county of only about 4,700 people. The new building would house the courthouse, county jail and sheriff’s offices. The sheriff and court officials say it’s urgently needed because of health and safety concerns for both inmates and staff in the current facility.
The project includes an 18-bed detention center.
If approved, an annual $1.25 million tax increase would be in effect for 25 years beginning on January, 1, 2022 and the funds generated would also be set aside for for operations and maintenance of the facility, along with financing and construction costs.
Supporters of the project say that would allow them to house female prisoners and also make it safer for everyone in the building as well as the community. The new courtroom calls for a jury deliberation room, secure spaces for witnesses and victims plus staff offices. Also, officials say there will be less threat to the general public because prisoners can be brought to court without taking them out of the facility.
The new justice center would be located on county-owned land in Westcliffe near the existing sheriff’s office and jail. Advocates for the project say that this would save millions of dollars in infrastructure compared to building the facility outside of town. They also believe that costs will keep increasing and as will the area’s population, so the current setup is unsustainable.
Some people think this project is too expensive. Sales tax in Custer County is only 4.9 percent including the state portion. The towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff impose taxes on top of that. Add another 2 percent and it raises the sales taxes in the towns to 9.9 percent.
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Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include additional clarification and details the ballot measure.
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