Voters in the county that includes Phoenix approved a one-fifth-cent jail tax, but the revenues are buying much more than just a jail, the Arizona Republic says. Maricopa County taxpayers are paying most of the cost of a $15.9 million sheriff’s training academy, complete with a 440-yard running track, volleyball courts, mock jail, an auditorium with stadium seating, a full-size weight room, and other conveniences.
The jail tax is paying for about $40 million in projects not directly related to jails, including the academy, parking garages and other support buildings. Kevin McCarthy of president of the Arizona Tax Research Association, complains that, “Once the money is collected . . . it goes oftentimes well beyond what the voters were told,” he said. “What’s (the academy) got to do with the jails?”
The tax extension was promoted as a way for the county to build and operate new jails to keep up with the explosive growth in inmates. County officials justified the academy saying they’ll need to train officers to staff the jails, and added that the ballot measure included jail support costs. The academy is scheduled for completion in mid-October. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is thrilled: “Since I’ve been sheriff, I’ve always wanted my own academy.”
The tax, extended by voters in November, is expected to generate up to $3.1 billion over the next two decades. The new training academy will house 13 classrooms, a firearms simulation suite, locker rooms, a computer lab, and mat rooms among other things. Employees can use a weight room, complete with 43 pieces of equipment. The 13-acre parcel will have an obstacle course, running track and volleyball courts.
The builders constructed a two-story, 10-cell mock jail that will allow officers to train as if they’re really on the job. It even incorporates places to hide contraband. Arpaio said the salaries for his deputies are lower than those of nearby police departments. “The least I can do to counteract that,” he says, “is make sure we have a great academy, and not only for the morale of our newly appointed officers, but also to make sure they get the best training.”