Budget Concerns Lead to Repair of Aging Facility

IOWA —The Webster County Board of Supervisors has decided to repair its existing jail in Fort Dodge, Iowa instead of building a new facility.

In April, the county received citizen approval to bond for $9 million to build a new jail using Local Option Sales Tax revenue paid for over 20 years. However, in mid October the board announced it would repair the existing facility, due to new information regarding the general budget and concern over local option sales tax revenues. The board will still be paying for the estimated $4 million project from lost revenues.

County Sheriff Brian Mickelson said that if the current jail is repaired, the county will still be spending money to house inmates in neighboring counties’ facilities. The jail can hold 50, but inmates are sent to other counties because there are only two isolation cells, which are used for people with communicable diseases or for their own safety. Jail staff have also reported more inmates with mental health issues that require them to be separate from other inmates.

The Iowa State Legislature may take up a measure requiring county jails to house people serving two-year sentences. If that passes, the jail population could quadruple. Currently, county jails only house inmates serving a one-year sentence. Expenses for housing inmates in other counties could be paid for out of the supplemental budget to avoid straining the general basic budget.

Concerns have also been raised about the liability issue of transporting inmates to and from the county during the winter months. The board has been asked to include transportation costs to its bottom line when considering jail repairs.

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