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Custer County Officials Hope Voters Approve New Jail

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BILLINGS -

There's very little in the way of open space in the old jail in Miles City. And the age certainly shows. Even the old hook and trapdoor still remains from when hangings were carried out decades ago.

The Custer County detention facility, as it is formally named, hasn't been used since last October when the ACLU threatened to sue over the inmates' living conditions, citing a lack of fresh air and structural concerns.

It was built back in the early 1900s and since it can no longer be used by the county, they now must transport all of their inmates to Glasgow. And between transportation and rent at Valley County's own jail facility, it stacks up to $240,000 per year according to Custer County's board of commissioners.

Driving that far is not only costly, but can be dangerous, especially in the winter months. Also, if any inmates or law enforcement officers were to get injured in transit, it could potentially open up the county to lawsuits.

"The safety of everyone involved is a big factor to my agency. I'm putting staff on the road to make that 400 mile round trip for someone to go to jail," said Custer County Sheriff Tony Harbaugh.

County commissioners also are concerned about public safety. They, along with the sheriff, said some of those in trouble with the law have to be released because there's not enough space or money to hold them in the cells rented out by the county in Glasgow's jail.

"We have people that should be incarcerated that aren't. Our judges have worked with us very well to help keep our numbers down to the eight cells," said Custer County Commissioner Keith Holmlund.

Officials want to build a new detention center, which will cost 7.5 million dollars. Funds would be raised through an increase of property taxes based on the value of owned land and homes. A resident in Miles City with a home value of $100,000 would owe $54.59 per year while those owning a home valued at $200,000 would see a bill increase of $109.18 per year. The tax increase would last for 20 years and would also increase property taxes on farmland as well, varying by the value of each acre of land.

The county commissioners are hoping a proposed bond measure, if approved by county residents, will be enough to get the county back on track. However, if the bond measure fails, it could spell big trouble for the county's finances.

"In three years, the county could be bankrupt," said Commissioner Holmlund.

County officials said they know raising taxes isn't something anyone looks forward to, but hope taxpayers understand the critical need for a new jail.

Ballots for the bond issue will be mailed out Friday, August 16th and are due back by Tuesday, September 10th.

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