Public Safety Center, jail issue questions answered; vote November 16

By News Dept.
Posted 10/28/99

There was a light turnout at the Kalona Community Center Monday evening for a public forum on the one per cent local option sales tax (LOST).

The vote will be held Tuesday, November 16.

All of …

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Public Safety Center, jail issue questions answered; vote November 16


There was a light turnout at the Kalona Community Center Monday evening for a public forum on the one per cent local option sales tax (LOST).

The vote will be held Tuesday, November 16.

All of the money generated by LOST will go toward the retirement of loans to finance the construction of a new Washington County Public Safety Center and Jail, pointed out Harvey Holden, chairman of the citizens committee spearheading the fact-finding and promotion of the LOST vote.

“The center is not to exceed $4.5 million plus about $450,000 for communications equipment,” Holden pointed out Monday. “The entire debt will be retired in five years. The sales tax will end at that time.”

Film available

A 16-minute film with comments from a cross section of county residents stating their views and explaining the issues involved with the vote, is available to pickup at the video departments at Reif’s, JW’s Food and Kalona Standard plus the Kalona News.

“We, this committee, are normal, taxpaying citizens, just like you,” comments Dean Kurtz, in the opening remarks of the film.

“Most of us did not know each other when we were asked to serve and research this problem, We have tried to be your eyes and ears as taxpayers. All of the questions and ideas we heard from you in the last months have been discussed and researched.

“Facts are the most important, not emotions, not politics. We are not running for office and are not working for the old or new facility. Our personal connection is paying for it in the future, just like every taxpayer. We want to correct our problems for the least amount of money, just like everyone else.

“We must correct our problems with something you, the voters, will agree with. Some people think voting NO means spending NO money. Starting soon we will have to pay other people (counties) to house our local prisoners safely, about 10 each day. We would still need to have holding cells in our local building and would not reduce these expenses much. Certain costs would go up. More people would need to be hired for transporting prisoners. All of this could cost about half the amount of a new safety center and we would still have no communications update.

Now is the time to get the most for our money,” Kurtz concluded.

Kurtz also noted that for a family with an annual income of $20,000, the cost to pay for the jail would be about $10 a month or $600 over the five year period.

Questions and Answers

Following are several questions and answers about the proposed facility. Additional questions will addressed in the next three issues of the Kalona News. Other meetings are being held around the county. All city councils and the county supervisors have endorsed LOST as a method of paying for the new law enforcement contract.

The proposal and recommendation of the Committee is to build a two-story jail and complete offices for law enforcement on the present site. It would go basically from curb to curb and will have communications and administration on the first floor and the jail on the top floor. It will be paid for by a 5-year sales tax of 1% used exclusively for the Safety Center. The proposed investment is $5.004 million.

Q: Do we really need a new jail?

A: A lot of things have changed since the old jail was built. The first half of 1995, our average was three inmates per day. (Average of only 4.3 for the whole year). But in 1998, there was an average of 17 local inmates.

Q: Is the present jail useable?

A: The present jail was designed to hold four to eight inmates at a time. It was never meant for females to be housed or for (10) required different classifications.

Q: What life expectancy is being built into the new law and safety center?

A: Architects use an arbitrary life of 30 years. But this will be a substantial masonry and steel structure that will last many more years than that.

Q: What are the benefits of maintaining a jail in this County:

A: Cost. Most jail planners say it is much more cost effective to own your facility than to pay other counties at $55 per day per prisoner, plus transportation. And of course those “rental” costs increase over the years.

Q: How can we know that the current proposal will be adequate for future need:

A: According to the professional jail planner we have been in contact with, it will be adequate for future foreseeable needs.

Q: Are out-of-county prisoners kept at the Washington Safety Center? Is the appropriate County charged $55 per day per prisoner that is being kept? Where does that money go? How much is collected on the average per year?

A: Yes. It goes into the County’s General Fund which is State policy and bookkeeping procedures. Average is $150,000 per year. One example of classification problems is if we have one woman prisoner and five other beds empty, we could make use of those beds and turn them into money by taking five other females. These beds are still a cost to us and would be sitting there empty. One of the problems is all ten classifications create similar problems where people should be separated. And this leads to the problem of safety within our whole facility.

Q: Will this practice continue with the new facility?

A: Yes. It would not make sense not to rent temporarily empty beds in a given classification. For example, one woman prisoner means that five other “female beds” should be rented if possible as they cannot be used for men.

Q: How much larger will the new safety center be compared to the old one?

A: The new safety center will be approximately four times larger (in terms of square feet) than the one we are currently using with jail standard.

Q: How many more inmates will it be allowed to house?

A: It will be able to hold approximately six to eight more prisoners than the current facility is able to hold with additional area to be developed later if needed. It will be legal and safer for both the inmates and the staff because it will permit multiple classifications and more secure supervision.

Q: Will there be more classifications in the new building?

A: Yes. We now have three. The new facility permits ten. (Call Yale to get more details.)

Q: Will there be a need to hire additional employees for the new safety center?

A: New efficient design of housing the prisoners will allow the same number to supervise prisoners more efficiently.

Q: How do I know this 1% sales tax will not continue on after December 31, 2004?

A: An optional sales tax is limited by Iowa State Law to the five-year period stated on the ballot.

Q: Who makes up the Safety Center Committee and where are they from?

A: They are volunteer citizens appointed by elected-government from each community. There are two members from Washington, (City); two members from the rural area; and one each from Kalona, Riverside, Brighton and Ainsworth (9 total). Harvey Holden, Cindy Bates, Gary Stewart, Douglas L. Tindal, Dean Kurtz, Brian Hora, Linda Burger, Bill Halleran, Bob Swartzendruber.

Q: Can the Local Option Sales Tax proposal be governed closely enough to cease effect as soon as the building/equipment is paid for to insure that there is not stashing away for “other things?”

A: Yes, County Supervisors and City Councils can vote to terminate the tax when the indebtedness is fully paid. The last time this was proposed, the sales tax was proposed for more than ten years to pay for other things that each City wanted to add. The Committee had whittled this down to six years by trying to keep it simple and with further assessment of “pinching the pennies” has now decreased the whole term of payment to five years, which is the very, very limits of decreasing the term as far as possible.

Q: Who will decide on installations, furnishings, or “frills” that will be added to the total cost of the new facility?

A: The cost will not exceed $5.004 million for the new building. $3.6 million of that amount is for the building, $1 million for furnishings, about $500,000 for communications. The Washington County Supervisors must budget for necessary additional items for the new building. They have the responsibility to spend wisely.

Q: What will be the long term effect if the 1$ local option sales tax gets disapproved?

A: On January 1 of 2000, we must pay to transport and house prisoners exceeding eight per day. There is an estimated average of 12 extra prisoners daily to be housed in other counties. The jail inspector has said we will not be allowed to house more than eight in our present facility after January 1. The estimated cost of transporting prisoners to other counties is at a minimum of $500,000 a year. This excess in our budget would be in our normal budget for law enforcement on and charged to the local property tax payers. This could cost as much as a new building.

Q: Why does the Safety Center Committee feel that the 1% local option sales tax is the better way to go versus property tax in order to fund this project?

A: This was felt to be the most fair route to go. We believe the Local Sales Tax Option will raise the necessary money more quickly (about five years). This was overwhelming from our survey, which had a nine to one margin saying they preferred paying for it by sales tax.

Q: Will there be a total demolition and then the building of the new safety center? Can this be done in phases?

A: Yes. The new building and communication center will be conducted in two phases. The first phase will be the building to house the communication center and will be up and running before demolition of the old building would start. Lead time is approximately one year from the time of ordering communications equipment until the time it arrives ready for installation. During that time, we would have the first corner of the building, which would house the communications completed. It would be up and running before we disconnect the old communications. The communications people say it takes about three days to install equipment after you have the building ready to go. It is important that the employees need to practice on the new equipment for about a week to become very familiar with it before they leave and stop working with the old equipment.

Q: What might the options be to minimize inconvenience and not contribute to the overall cost of the project?

A: The Court may be able to defer some sentencing.

Q: Do we need new communications?

A: Our current equipment is as old as 30 years. We have gone as far as getting parts from junkyards in order to keep the current radios in working order. One backup module is in stock here which was obtained from the last junkyard. We know of no other junkyards at this time in the nation where we can get more backup models to keep our equipment running. If one should quit, we would have to try and search nationwide for something else in somebody’s trash heap. This is a desperate situation and we would only realize it if we are unlucky and the equipment fails when you and I need it most. We have already had a couple of incidents where EMS and Emergency First Responders were not properly notified and this is due to the age of the equipment.

Q: Why are the current radios being used so old?

A: A lot of communities replaced their radios when obtaining 911 (10 years ago). We have actually squeezed another ten years out of our radios to save money.

Q: Where would we put the new communications equipment?

A: It would be put in the new building upon completion of Phase I. The one problem with our old building and new building is the installation of the new equipment to keep it running. You cannot disconnect the old equipment all the way, stop for a week without any service and install the new equipment even if the old room was usable for that.

Q: How are we liable?

A: There is a high risk of assaults on prisoner and jail staff as well as possible suicides. A new Jail design has no bars - uses Plexiglas walls to limit harm to each other and themselves.

Q: Are standards too strict?

A: Standards have evolved over the years as laws and dangerous situations have arisen. They are mandated by the State which has come out of the people’s choice of laws, voting and lawsuits. We have no choice in running this. The State says we must meet requirements or else we will pay. There is a liability concern. There is the safety of workers, the protection of inmates from each other and possibility from themselves.

Q: Do we need a kitchen?

A: A complete kitchen is not being recommended at this time. An area to receive prepared meals, refrigerator, etc. should be designed. This area could be a kitchen at some future time when it is economical to do so. Consultants tell us that it is cheaper to fix food on the premises if you have more than 25 inmates in your care.

Q: Should we rent out bunks that are not being used?

A: An empty bunk I worthless until we need it. In the short term, empty beds could be rented for $55 per day. If we are able to rent out bunks to other counties, we may have $200,000 as income from this per year.

Q: Will the new jail really save us money?

A: The cost of the new building in the next ten years is only 20% of our expense. The remaining 80% is from salaries and other operating expense. A more efficient building saves staff.

Q: Where is the location for the new jail going to be?

A: The Committee has heard from the public that the most acceptable location is the present location. Many people disagree with where other choices would be, and this seems to be the simplest answer we can all agree upon. The Supervisors have accepted the committee recommendation that this is the preferred location.