Monday, August 18, 2014

Referendum is Required for Any Criminal Justice Center

I've come to the conclusion that the proposed Criminal Justice Center, should it get any further, be put to a vote of the public in the form of a referendum.

Project details are being withheld from the public by the Ballard administration - even details they have seen fit to divulge to the project bidders. 

The price tag noted in the press began as $200 M, but has hemmed and hawed its way to over $600 M.  For our purposes here, any of these price tags works.

The CJC would be built and run by an outside, private concern.  The City would lease-to-own the building over 35 years.

The administration keeps saying it will not result in a tax increase. They toss around an annual lease payment of less than $122 M. Taxes might go up or stay the same.  Either case works here.

Nonetheless, some of the payments would come from money normally appropriated to the Sheriff's Office and the Superior Courts, among others.  The Public Defender and Prosecutor won't actually be part of the CJC, despite its huge size.  Any accommodations for them nearby would have to be part of a separate public-private-partnership and add to the already huge price tag being hung on the CJC.

Between just the Sheriff and Courts budgets, nearly $100 M comes from the Consolidated County Fund.   This year, this Fund got about $165 M in revenues, 25 M, or 15%, of which came from property taxes.  It is impossible to imagine a repayment scheme that did not include a significant portion from property taxes.

By state law, any project costing $12 M or more in property taxes - whether it be through bond or lease payments - requires the consent of the voters through a referendum.

The little information so far let out by the project handlers in the administration clearly demonstrates that the CJC project qualifies as a project that meets the threshold for a referendum.

The public has deserved far greater transparency on the proposed CJC than it has received.  It also deserves a referendum, so that it has a real say in whether or not it wants to commit hundreds of billions of dollars over 35 years to a Criminal Justice Center.

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