Voters say no to judicial complex bond questions

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Voters overwhelmingly defeated two bond questions aimed at building a $33 million jail and courthouse.

Sharna Johnson

Curry County Commissioner Frank Blackburn doesn’t know what will happen next, but he heard voters’ message loud and clear on Tuesday.

“The citizens of Curry County have spoken, so we’ll have to make something work,” he said.

Voters overwhelmingly defeated two bond questions aimed at building a $33 million jail and courthouse.

County officials said both measures were needed to address safety concerns. But with nearly matching results, voters rejected a general obligation bond to fund a new courthouse and a gross receipts tax increase for a new jail.

Both measures failed by more than 4,000 votes. Only 27 percent of the 9,000-plus voters favored the proposed complex.

Blackburn said he was surprised by the margin, but has “no problem with what the people want.”

County Manager Lance Pyle said he plans to meet with county commissioners in the next few weeks to discuss next steps.

“We don’t know what the next steps will be, but we do know we have to do something to address these (safety) issues.”

The results show voters are sending their officials a message, said Clovis resident Al Lewis.

“I think the county’s going to have to go back and actually do their job instead of throwing money at the problem,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he voted against the measures because the county couldn’t provide vital answers to questions voters had about the projects.

“We need to concentrate more on fixing the problems and taking care of the problems through managing much better,” he said. “Throwing money at the problem isn’t going to help. … I think there’s ways that they can fix what they’ve got.”

Sharon Musik said she also opposed the judicial complex. “I think that this is not the right time in our economy to be going that far into debt with taxes, plus I think they misrepresented some of the facts.”

Problems at the jail are a management issue not necessarily fixed by a new building, voter Mike Morris said.

“I’m dead set against it. I pay plenty of taxes. They can’t take care of the small population they’ve got over there now in the jail,” he said.

Commission Chairman Bobby Sandoval declined comment following the election.

Commissioners Wendell Bostwick, Dan Stoddard and Caleb Chandler could not be reached for comment.

County officials said almost 50 percent of the registered voters participated in Tuesday’s election; the 10,052 voters were the most in a non-presidential year since 1998.

Pyle said the next county commission meeting is scheduled Friday and commissioners will “talk about the elections.”

“It’s a difficult time in our economy and it (Tuesday’s election results) is a reflection of the voters,” Pyle said.

The measures were an intended solution to an overcrowded jail and courthouse with structural safety issues, officials have said.

Blackburn said with the projects defeated, the county still has to address deficiencies in the jail and other issues.

The jail has been plagued with problems in recent years, most notably with the 2008 escape of eight violent inmates.

“We will continue to harden the facilities that we have. It’ll have to be a commission effort,” Blackburn said.