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Editorial: Jail, roads not child's play

Say Kick-the-Can to anyone over the age of 30, and they will likely tell you story after story of the popular game they played as children.

However, Kick-the-Can has a political connotation that isn't fun like a child's game. 

Twelve years ago, the Pierce County Board of Supervisors denied the request for a new justice center. The reason given was all options to cut costs weren't studied and county residents couldn't afford the tax increase.

Fast forward to this year, and the issue is back. What would have been a $23 million justice center with 148 beds is now a $38 million center with 110 beds.

While that $38 million is the maximum, other alternatives presented still would cost more than the original $23 million.

It's a question that's asked more than once: Why should the county build a new jail?

The issues 12 years ago have only gotten worse. The 40-year-plus-old building is showing more wear-and-tear, more shortcomings. Recently, Sheriff Nancy Hove said this about the jail: "The entire plumbing needs to replaced...there's electrical issues...the mechanics of the building is starting to fail."

State guidelines have also gotten more stringent since 2000. They spotlight our jail deficiencies: Lack of units to classify inmates; no recreation or exercise space; and jailers having to answer dispatch phones. These are at the top of the county's "fix" list.

While Hove has said repeatedly the state doesn't have the power to close the jail if those changes aren't met, it can make those who work for the sheriff's department's lives difficult.

"Things are going to be needed to replace sooner or later," she told Prescott Kiwanis earlier this month.

Highway Commissioner Chad Johnson can understand Hove's plight about being put off until later. Johnson told the finance and personnel committee last month the county is looking at a deficit of $40 million and growing to catch up with yearly road-and-bridge repairs.

Johnson told the committee that the county levy and state funds don't come close to the list of road and bridge repairs needed. He said there could be relief in terms of federal funding for some bridge repairs, but it would take an average of six years between being awarded the bid to actual construction.

Furthermore, he said, this issue has to be addressed because alternatives include going back to gravel roads, which he has heard or already seen in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Two committee members publicly stated that highway work has been neglected the last few years and that something must change.

These two snowballs that are picking up momentum would be easier to solve if the county's finances were better. But in preparing for their 2013 budgets, both Hove and Johnson, along with other department heads, were told to plan for a zero percent increase in the tax levy. 

And this is where it gets tricky for our county board because the only option left is borrowing. Both Hove and Johnson have valid points on why they need extra money, but in today's financial climate, the chances of both getting an extra slice of the pie are slim.

You might say that isn't fair either, and you'd be right, but what's the alternative?

Kicking the can again? That's the worst option of all.