This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When taxpayers are asked to pony up $9.4 million a year so their county can build a new jail, it's relatively easy for them to know whether or not their money went to good use. The jail either got built or it didn't. It either keeps the bad guys in or it doesn't. It's either big enough or it's not.

Unless somebody's sleazy contractor brother-in-law cut corners on the electrical and fire suppression systems, the success or failure of a jail construction project is pretty straightforward.

Ask those same taxpayers to come up with the same amount of money for a series of programs designed to keep people out of jail — or to reduce the possibility that they'll come back — and the measure of success will be a lot harder to gauge.

They should do it anyway.

The Salt Lake County Council was correct to approve Mayor Ben McAdams' plan to hang on to a property tax levy that was imposed in 1995 to build the county jail in West Valley City, even though the use for that money going forward will be less about bricks and bars and more about screening and treatment. Because screening and treatment are exactly what the sheriff's office and the whole of the local criminal justice system need to be successful.

The council Tuesday approved a county budget that keeps the special tax levy — amounting to $18 per year per property — that would otherwise have expired at the end of this year. It is to the credit of both the mayor and the council members that the plan was a bit of a hard sell. Council members dove deeply into the budget and policy weeds to satisfy themselves that it would be money well spent.

They were properly swayed by testimony from front-line law enforcement officers explaining just how maddening it is for them to keep arresting people who deserve incarceration less than they need treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues. And by the fact that, over the last 20 years, the demand Salt Lake County government has placed on property tax payers has declined.

This attention to detail must continue. The programs the county will design and implement with this money will require constant oversight, refining and evaluation of what works and what doesn't. It will all be a lot more complicated, a lot more subjective, just downright squishy at times, compared to something as rock solid as a jail.

But, if it works, the council will not only have saved many people from lives of crime and dependency. They also will have significantly put off the day when the taxpayers will have to build a bigger jail.