Letter to the editor: Put out the fire

To the editor:

Two thoughts on the upcoming mail ballot election. First, let’s say your house is on fire. What do you do? Call the fire department, naturally. When they arrive, you expect them to put out the fire. Instead, they: (1) discuss the need to have a fire station that is closer to your house; (2) complain about the old hoses they have to use; and (3) agree that better flame-retardant materials should be used when you rebuild. Meanwhile, your house continues to burn.

Douglas County has a fire of its own going on: the desperate need for a larger jail. Issues of speedier trials, restorative justice, decriminalization of drug crimes — all are worthy topics, but none will solve the current crisis. Once the fire is out, fine — discuss them and even act on them, but not now. How and why we got here are matters for another day.

Second, some would tell us that a crisis center alone is enough, without increased jail space and without any longer-term plan for those with mental illnesses. The center would be paid for with more property taxes, not a sales tax, and the tax would end after 10 years.

In consumer law, this is called a bait-and-switch; you pay more and get less. The county would still have to pay to warehouse prisoners in other jails and would continue to have no facility to help the mentally ill beyond the crisis phase. To get even this, it’s estimated that someone with a $400,000 house would pay an additional $200 a year in property tax. By contrast, to pay $200 more from a half-cent sales tax, you’d need $40,000 in taxable expenses. Pay more — get less.

Does justice matter? Of course. Then again, so do common sense and truth.