Tri-state residents who over the years have observed various bond-issue proposals to build county jails crash and burn might have done a double-take when reading last week’s Telegraph Herald item reporting on the referendum in Delaware County, Iowa.
Not only did a simple majority of voters support the issuance of up to nearly $6 million in bonds for a new jail, the electoral majority exceeded the state-mandated 60% level for passage.
With plenty to spare.
The majority was an incredible 85%.
That’s an astounding result, considering it involved voters agreeing to tax themselves. Astounding, considering that voters twice before (in 2014 and 2015) came close but failed to support such measures at that elusive 60% level.
The outcome speaks to the clear and urgent need for new jail
facilities in Delaware County as well as local officials’ ability to make a convincing case to taxpayers.
It also speaks to something else: Voters’ decision won’t carry the sting typically associated with a bond issue. That’s because property owners will complete paying off other debts as the jail debt comes on line. They won’t notice a difference on their tax bills.
Over time and across the region, whether it involves schools or other local governments, a tax is a far easier sell to voters when it is a continuation rather than an addition. Or, as is happening in Delaware County, where taxes going off the books square up with taxes coming on. Citizens don’t feel or notice the impact. They’re used to paying at that level.
By all rights, decisions on tax proposals should stand on their own merits. Just because a worthwhile project is being paid off doesn’t necessarily make the proposed next project worthwhile. But the argument, “it won’t cost you any more,” is pretty compelling.
All this could be instructive for officials in Jackson County, Iowa, which, like Delaware County, has a small and deficient jail. A proposed bond issue there received a simple majority of support last August, but not the required 60%. Officials have proposed to try again this August.
Before they do that, maybe they will be lucky enough to have some other indebtedness coming off the books. That, apparently more than insufficient facilities and state officials’ list of violations and deficiencies, is the strongest selling point.