Mt Pleasant News
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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 24, 2017

See said county ‘was forced’ to consider state’s land offer

Nov 03, 2017

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News

 

Henry County supervisors, evidently, are receiving some feedback from the public on the site chosen for the new county law enforcement center/jail and the capacity of the jail.

Supervisor Gary See, during Thursday’s board meeting, attempted to clarify the rationale behind choosing a 6.2-acre plot of land on the Iowa Correctional Institute campus and the possibility of expanding the jail’s bed count from 44 to 60.

Neither a site nor the capacity of the jail were specified in language accompanying the $9.1-million bond referendum which was overwhelmingly approved by county voters Aug. 1. However, at that time it was assumed the center would be built on county-owned land near the Christamore House. All indications also pointed to a 44-bed jail with expansion possibilities for 36 additional beds.

A lot has changed, though, since the election. In late September, the county learned that the state may be willing to part with some land it owned northwest of the former Mental Health Institute. In early October, the Iowa Board of Corrections unanimously approved giving the land to the county, giving supervisors another site where they desired to build the law enforcement center and jail.

Add to that several complications which arose regarding the site near the Christamore House and it became a no-brainer. The complications included a court challenge by a nearby landowner to the city granting the county a special use permit to build the jail at that location, costly excavation work, the location is in the airport’s flight path which meant permission would have to be received from the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to build there and the cost of extending utility lines to the site.

“The City of Mt. Pleasant has been challenged in court on its issuing of the special needs permit,” See began. “We don’t know how long it would take the court to issue a ruling, but we already are 18 months out on construction and the longer we wait, the more expensive construction costs will be. We feel forced to consider the State of Iowa’s offer rather than the original site.”

Regarding the increase in the number of beds, See said, “Our construction manager feels we can get 60 beds for the same money as the original 44 beds, which is very encouraging.”

Thursday’s supervisor meeting included the monthly reports from county department heads.

Walt Jackson, county emergency management director, said he recently attended a meeting where emergency management departments were encouraged to consider purchasing drones to aid their efforts, particularly in search-and-rescue missions.

“They are using drones in many different ways,” Jackson reported. “They have one now that is just a little larger than a cellphone. They also have one that will deploy from the top of a police car.”

Jackson said the county is also in talks with Des Moines County abut doing some joint training exercises. The counties recently collaborated on active-shooter training, which Jackson said was extremely successful. “We also could expand it (sponsorship) to include Washington and Lee counties,” Jackson remarked.

County Conservation Director John Pullis said all county campsites are now closed with the exception of the “Top of the Hill” campground which remains open all year.

The state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) commissioners will be meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, at the Oakland Mills Nature Center, Pullis said. The meeting is open to the public, and the commissioners are seeking input from the public, he added.

In other tidbits from the department head reports:

• Roger Pittsenbarger, Veterans Affairs director, said the Veterans Affairs Administration is working out problems with hospitals and health facilities not receiving reimbursement for treating veterans.

• Patti Sallee, county public health director, said immunizations are nearing completion in county school districts.

• Gary Dustman, county assessor, said he has a vacancy on the county board of review and will be seeking a new member in the near future.

Supervisors meet again in regular session Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 9 a.m. in the Henry County Courthouse.

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