The last time a bond referendum for a new Public Safety Facility was put to a vote in Dallas County, it was supported by 52.01 percent of voters, falling short of the 60 percent needed to approve such a facility.
Talks of starting plans on a new Public Safety Building bond referendum started again at the Dallas County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Tuesday, May 31.
The Iowa Department of Corrections inspected the Dallas County Jail on May 17 and sent a letter with the report to the County Supervisors on May 20. The report concluded that the current jail is an old facility that is not adequate to meet the needs of the prisoners, staff or the public.
One problem that was noted on the inspection letter was that plumbing issues that were addressed during previous inspections were not fixed and that they should be promptly addressed.
Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard said that the plumbing problems they are talking about is some rust that is on the pipes in the maintenance room at the facility.
"So it’s just how far do we want to take it and fix this?" said Leonard. "If the County’s going to continue to pursue a new facility, that’s why we haven’t brought it to you (the Supervisors) and asked you to replace some of the pipes and some of the electrical conduit that’s coming out the floor."
Leonard also mentioned that in March, 2018 they are set to lose 12 beds from the facility, which are random throughout the jail and could reduce the inmate capacity by 16-18 people.
A 12-bed variance was given to the Dallas County Jail in 2000 to give them time to make arrangements for the overcrowding in the jail and 16 years later, those arrangements have still not been made despite it being put to a vote in a variety of ways the last couple of years.
The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department already has to house prisoners in other jail facilities in nearby counties at a daily cost due to a low capacity at the Dallas County Jail.
"I’m not sure what the statistics are today, how many we have in Story County (jail) but we’ve had as many as 36 I think over in Story at one time if I recall so it’s getting worse," said Leonard. "It’s not getting any better."
Chairman of the board Mark Hanson mentioned that they still have one inmate that they are housing in Coralville at $400 per day.
Leonard said that while the State Jail Inspector has the right to shut down the Dallas County Jail, he doesn’t think that would happen but would have to continue to pay the "ungodly" amount of money to other jails to house their prisoners.
Representatives from The Samuels Group, commercial construction contractors, were in attendance at the meeting to discuss their plan for addressing the needs of a new public safety facility and educating the public about the need for one.
The Samuels Group recently helped Clinton County get a similar public safety facility go to referendum and it was successful.
"So with the history that Dallas County has had trying to get a same-type of referendum passed over the last several months and specifically just recently after their successful endeavor with Clinton County, we’ve had discussions with them about potentially teaming up with them to help us do the same," said Rob Tietz, Dallas County operations director.
According to Sid Samuels, President and owner of The Samuels Group, the referendum in Clinton County passed with 74 percent.
"I think we did a lot of good things that I think can be incorporated into Dallas County," said Samuels.
Samuels said that their analysis will look at the costs of "doing nothing" — which would mean continuing to house inmates in other jails — and "doing something," which would mean building a new public safety facility.
Along with analyzing costs, The Samuels Group offers marketing and social media services to help educate the public about the proposed new facility and will act as the construction manager if the referendum were to pass.
No action was taken on whether or not to officially hire The Samuels Group at the meeting on Tuesday, but The Samuels Group plans to return to the Board of Supervisors with a more comprehensive list of what services they will offer along with costs to the County.