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Supervisors: No new jail

Cite budgetary concerns in decision to retain current facility; Law enforcement officials say existing jail doesn’t meet needs

October 20, 2010
By LINDSEY MUTCHLER Messenger staff writer

The Webster County Board of Supervisors unanimously decided to change course and repair the existing jail during its Tuesday meeting. It will postpone construction of a new jail.

The county supervisors room overflowed into the hallway with citizens and law enforcement waiting to weigh in on the issue.

R.V. Clapp, of Fort Dodge, was first to address the board.

Article Video

Supervisors meeting, Oct. 19, 2010

"I've been gone for three weeks, and I was just wondering, what happened?" Clapp asked. "The last meeting I was at I thought the new jail was a foregone conclusion."

In April, the board received citizen approval to bond for $9 million to construct a new jail rather than repair the existing one, using local option sales tax revenue paid for over 20 years.

However, last week the board announced it was no longer going to construct a new jail and wanted to repair the existing facility, due to new information regarding the general basic budget and concern over local option sales tax revenues.

Article Photos

Webster County Sheriff Brian Mickelson, right, addresses the Webster County Supervisors Tuesday morning before they voted to renovate the existing jail rather than build a new one. Jail administrator Steve “Wally” Elifrits, left, listens to the discussion.

"This is one of those decisions that we could argue back and forth," said Supervisor Bob Singer. "The fact of the matter is that on one side we don't have a crystal ball to know what the increase of income will be for local option sales tax or if it's going ... to go back down."

But, the board said it will still be paying for the estimated $4 million project from LOST revenues.

Don Woodruff, of Fort Dodge, approached the board as a taxpayer and president of Woodruff Construction.

Fact Box

By the numbers:

All money to repair the existing jail will come from local option sales tax revenues, just as construction of the new jail would've been. All numbers provided are estimates from Haila Architecture, Structure, Planning, Ltd.

Repairing the jail: $4.3 million which only addresses immediate needs, including $1.2 million to house inmates in other counties' facilities for a year.

Constructing new jail: $6.6 million.

Utility costs: The board was concerned about utility costs and repairs, suggesting it would cost tax payers $100,000 to $300,000 annually to run the new jail.

Architect John Haila said his estimates for utilities in a new, efficiently built facility were $1 to $2 per square foot.

A 20,000-square-foot facility would cost $20,000 to $40,000 annually, which would be offset from the savings of not housing inmates in other counties' facilities, he said.

Custodial work wouldn't need to be included because the jail staff cleans the entire jail floor.

"Now is the the time to build if you're going to build," Woodruff said. "Construction prices are significantly low right now. ... I can't speak as far as location goes. I'm sure you're still pursuing that."

However, the board stood firm in its decision to spend millions of dollars repairing the jail and weren't swayed by law enforcement officials' concerns.

Webster County Sheriff Brian Mickelson told the board if it fixes the current jail, the county will still be spending money to house inmates in neighboring counties' facilities, and last year, taxpayers spent $50,000 to do so. The jail can hold 50 people.

Inmates are sent to other counties because there are only two isolation cells in the current jail, which are used for people with communicable diseases - such as HIV or hepatitis C - or for their own safety.

For example, jailer Renee Ryan said staff have been seeing more inmates with mental health issues that require them to be separate from other inmates.

"We don't have the space to keep them separate from the others," Ryan said. "We need more room."

Mickelson also said the Legislature may take up a measure requiring county jails to house people serving two-year sentences. If that passes, he said, the jail population could quadruple. Currently, county jails only house inmates serving a one-year sentence.

Webster County Auditor Carol Messerly said expenses for housing inmates in other counties could be paid for out of the supplemental budget to avoid straining the general basic budget.

Mickelson also told the board he was concerned about transporting inmates to and from the county during the winter months.

"It's a liability issue," he said. "That's something else to consider."

Kevin Doty, Fort Dodge Assistant Police Chief, asked the board to include transportation costs to its bottom line when considering the jail repairs. He also requested that the Police Department and Iowa State Patrol be included in discussions so each knows where to transport people who are arrested when the jail is closed for repairs.

Fort Dodge Assistant Police Chief Doug Utley, who is challenging Supervisor Keith Dencklau for the District 1 seat, asked the board if anyone present was prepared to tell citizens what the total costs associated with the repairs are.

"I see a lot of figures are (to be determined)," Utley said. No one from the board responded.

Jail employee Tanner Nowell asked the board what the jailers duties would be for the duration of the jail repairs estimated to take a year.

"We don't know," said Dencklau. Architect John Haila said that wasn't something the board discussed because the plan had been to build a new jail.

Jeanette Thanupakorn, Webster County Assessor, said she appreciated the hard work the supervisors had done in regard to the project.

"As a taxpayer, I appreciate all the work you do," Thanupakorn said. "And, I think you need to listen to law enforcement and give some weight to their concerns."

After citizens and officials shared their views, the board repeated its concern over the general basic budget suggesting county employees would be laid off if a new jail was built. The board didn't share the estimated revenue from the general basic budget that was pivotal to its decision.

Contact Lindsey Mutchler at (515) 573-2141 or



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