Sheila Stogsdill

Special to the Grove Sun

JAY - A defeated sales-tax proposal to expand a new jail split Delaware County residents between northern and southern areas of the county.

For the fourth time in the past two years Delaware County voters rejected a sales tax proposal to improve the county jail.

Opponents said passing the half-cent proposal would increase Grove's sale tax from 8.8 to 9.3 percent. Eleven of the county's 22 precincts that opposed the proposition were in Grove or the northern part of county.

"How many times do we have to say no?" asked Larry Parham, Grove city councilor.

On Tuesday almost 35 percent of the county's registered voters cast their ballots, with 3,982 votes opposed and 2,549 votes in favor of the proposal that would have added 100 beds to the 10-year-old jail.

"The county commissioners represent the majority of the public, and the public has said no," said Mike Davenport, a Grove city councilor and a bail bond agent.

Davenport said he was glad to see the proposal defeated. There are lots of rumors flowing from one end of the county to another about what would happen if the tax either passed or failed, he said.

"People don't know what to believe," Davenport said. "There is no doubt we need something, but people don't want their taxes raised in this kind of economy."

The quest for a new jail comes after the Oklahoma State Department of Health issued a compliance order in 2006 saying the county commissioners and the sheriff had violated city and county jail standards, including inmate population maximums.

The jail has a capacity of 61 inmates, but records show that as many as 81 inmates have been held there. On Wednesday, the sheriff's office said the jail had 65 inmates.

Delaware County Commissioner Dave Kendrick was unavailable for comment and Commissioners Kenny Crowder and Bill Cornell declined to comment on Tuesday's election result.

"I really don't know what we are going to do," said Olen Watts, Delaware County Public Facilities Authority member.

Watts said the amount of votes defeating the proposal was surprising but added, "the city of Grove is always against it."

The city of Grove is making it hard for the rest of the county because its voters consistently reject the tax increase proposal, he said.

If the county is fined for capacity violations, property taxes will likely be increased, he said.

A half-cent sales tax to fund the $11.85 million county jail was defeated by four votes in April.

Other measures that failed include a one-tenth-penny sales tax proposal to house about 20 inmates in the Ottawa County jail was rejected in January 2009 and a half-cent sales tax proposition was defeated in August 2008.