Mt Pleasant News
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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 23, 2017

Third time a charm?

August's jail bond vote with be third time in 12 years
Jul 21, 2017
Photo by: Brooks Taylor MPN file photoHenry County voters will be going to the polls Tuesday, Aug. 1, to vote on the issuance of bonds for a county law enforcement complex that would include a 44-bed jail. During the past two months, the sheriff’s office has hosted tours of the jail (the tour shown in the photo was on March 16). The final tour will be Thursday, July 27, from 4:30-7 p.m. A virtual tour of the jail can be taken anytime by visiting the county’s website.

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News

 

Henry County Sheriff Rich McNamee is hoping third time’s the charm come Tuesday, Aug. 1.

That’s the day that county voters, for the third time in the last 12 years, will vote on the issuance of $9.1M in general obligation capital loan notes to fund the construction of a new county law enforcement and 44-bed jail complex.

A super majority (60-percent affirmative vote) is needed for passage. The 2017 vote comes on the heels of similar measures in 2005 and 2006 which were narrowly defeated. The 2006 bond vote failed by 13 votes.

McNamee is slightly optimistic heading into the election. That optimism is based on what he has heard in giving 27 presentations thus far to various city councils, fire departments, police departments around the county during the past 44 days.

“I still have some skepticism because of the super majority needed (for passage),” McNamee said earlier this week. “I have received a good response at all the places I’ve been. The resistance has been limited, and primarily because of taxes (increase in property taxes). However, I did have one guy come up to me and say we don’t need a five-star hotel for prisoners.”

Language on the ballot is brief and to the point: “Shall (the) county of Henry, State of Iowa, be authorized to build, equip and furnish a new Henry County Jail and law enforcement center on county-owned land, or if necessary, to acquire land and make site improvements for such purpose, and issue its general obligation in an amount not exceeding $9,100,000 for these purposes?”

Building plans

Current plans are to build the complex on county-owned land near the Christamore House. The location has not been a favorite of some in the county, but McNamee quickly says that neither he nor the county are married to the location.

“I truly don’t care where it is at,” the sheriff said. “We need the facility. We have a permit from the city to build it there. I would be okay with another site. If we could save $500 to $750,000 by having it at another site, I would be fine with that. ”

Safety, size and money

Safety and jail population size are the two largest reasons in the quest for a new jail, he said.

“If we are booking two or three people simultaneously, we have them in the breakroom, which is four feet from an exit door. Also, the booking area is directly across from the dispatch center, which does not have locks on the doors. It is conceivable that inmates could take control of the dispatch center and if your house is on fire, you may not get a fire truck.”

“Safety is really a big issue for staff and the inmates,” he continued. “These aren’t petty criminals that we are transporting (to other county jails). The ones who are held have (been accused of) committing felonies.”

Henry County’s jail, an eight-bed facility, is the smallest in southeast Iowa. That size is a particular detriment when jail occupancy, McNamee said, has averaged in the low 30s since Jan. 1, reaching 40 inmates for three days in April. “Since I’ve been sheriff (Jan. 1, 2013), we have averaged about 24 inmates per day.”

The current law enforcement center and jail, built in 1963, was built for a dozen people, the sheriff said. The sheriff’s department now has 40 employees. “When it was built, it housed the county sheriff and his family. We didn’t have near the staff we have now and there wasn’t a dispatch center.”

Transporting the offenders to nearby county jails costs big bucks, leading one county official to quip, “We are building a lot of area county jails.”

The current cost of room and board of one inmate at a neighboring jail is $50 per day. From Jan. 1, 2013 to May 1, 2017, the county paid other counties $670,347 to house prisoners. Going back even further, the county has spent $1,597,033 in offender boarding costs from the turn of the century to May 1, 2017.

Those boarding figures do not include transportation costs, which McNamee said average out to be about 10-20 percent of the above costs.

And then there are the maintenance costs to the current facility. The sheriff said plumbing repairs have cost $19,446 in the last three years. “We’ve had electrical and IT repairs, too,” he quickly adds. Fortunately, the building is sound structurally with no money spent on repairs in that area, according to McNamee.

“Sewage pipes and drainage are always issues here,” he remarked. “We do several loads of laundry each day because each inmate’s clothes have to be laundered due to the possibility of communicable diseases and meth residue.”

COPS

McNamee and members of the Citizens Organized for Public Safety (COPS) have been busy “selling” the bond issue. A number of public presentations are planned before the Aug. 1 election. Another jail tour is scheduled Thursday, July 27, from 4:30-7 p.m. and a virtual tour can be taken anytime by visiting the Henry County website.

Members of the COPS committee are Mike Hampton and Kay Denning, co-chairs, Ron Archer, Nancy Davis, Mary Elgar, Kurt Garretson, Steve Gerling, John Hendrickson, Jesse Howard, Mary Koontz, Gary Lauger, McNamee, Lyle Murray, Dr. Bob McPheron, Kirby Moon, Kate Newman, Steve Nichting, Brad Roth, Judy Sammons, Cherry Sandeen and Jerry Wells.

“We have hammered it hard,” McNamee said. “We will be walking door-to-door before the election handing out flyers. Social media has been a huge advantage this time around as we didn’t have that in 2005 and 2006.”

If passed, property taxes would increase by 78 cents per $1,000 taxable valuation over the 20-year life of the bond. For a house with a $100,000 assessed valuation ($56,939 taxable valuation due to the residential rollback), property taxes would rise $44 annually. A commercial building with an assessed value of $150,000 ($135,000 taxable valuation with the rollback) would be taxed another $105. A 160-acre tract of land would have its yearly property tax bill rise by $94.35.

A long time coming

The sheriff has been working on a new law enforcement center concept before taking office “because I knew we needed it.” He stepped up the campaign two years ago and it high gear last fall when Prochaska & Associates, an Omaha, Neb., architectural firm, was hired to complete a feasibility study and needs assessment. From that assessment, Prochaska determined that the county needed a 44-bed jail with expansion for another 30 beds.

Several options were given to a committee of private citizens chosen to study future jail needs. The options included the one chosen, and two options for building on to the current jail or tearing down the current complex and building a new center at the same site. Both of the options Cost for renovation and expansion to the existing center was the most economical at $8.9 million. Construction of a new center and jail at the current site came in at $9.6, and the final option, a hold-and-transort facility was estimated at $14.3 million, largely due to the cost of boarding prisoners elsewhere.

McNamee said the two options at the current site would be problematic. First of all, some existing buildings would have to be moved, expansion room would be at a minimum and it would make an already congested area more so.

If voters approve the project, McNamee said construction would begin next spring and it would take 18 to 24 months to finish the project.

What happens if the bond issue doesn’t pass?

McNamee said it will be back to the drawing board. “If it doesn’t pass, we will have to look at the project and see what we can change to make it acceptable to the public,” he explained. “We could upgrade it to make it a hold-and-transport facility. Upgrading it would take all the room we have.”

He does, however, know one thing — “Doing nothing is not an option.”

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