ST. HELENS, Ore. -- Voters in Columbia County on Tuesday narrowly passed a three-year levy which will keep the jail in St. Helens open.
The levy passed by a margin of 51% to 49%. It was a difference of less than 300 votes, according to elections staff.
The measure will boost property taxes 58 cents per $1,000, and will raise nearly $7 million over the next three years. It will go primarily to jail operations and will allow the county to hire several new deputies to work at the jail.
Undersheriff Andy Moyer said he was surprised the levy passed, after a similar measure failed last fall.
“It’s tough and we sympathize with the citizens and with the taxpayers and we know we are asking them to provide a sacrifice but we feel this is one area where it’s worth it," Moyer said. "It’s worth it to invest those dollars in public safety to keep the community safe."
The Columbia County jail has 255 beds, only 25 of which are used to house local inmates. Some are rented out and used as federal jail beds, and the rest sit empty.
According to Moyer, the reason only 25 local beds are in use is because the jail does not have enough money to operate and house additional inmates. With money from the levy, the jail will be able to expand the number of local beds to 100 and hire additional staff to oversee them.
Moyer said the levy was crucial. Had it failed, the jail would have shut down and 16 employees would have lost their jobs. On top of that, the majority of the inmates would have been released to the streets.
As a backup plan, Columbia County had planned on renting out ten jail cells from Polk County and housing it’s the ten most dangerous offenders there.
The results of the vote are not official and will be certified on June 9th.