The issue of a new jail for Buena Vista County could be becoming more than just a political football. As inmate numbers increase, prisoners that may pose a hazard could possibly be released into the public.
"They were releasing some pretty serious prisoners," Jail Administrator Don McClure said of some of the five prisoners released from the jail last weekend. He made his comments during a discussion about the upcoming Nov. 8 bond issue election for a $4.8-million jail during a meeting of the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors Tuesday. McClure said the prisoners were released on a point system, only because there was no room for them in the jail.
There were 17 prisoners in the jail Tuesday; eight more housed out in Plymouth and O'Brien Counties. That poses an additional expense.
As an example, McClure said if a prisoner housed in Le Mars needs mental health services, deputies need to travel to Le Mars to pick up the prisoner for transport to Spencer for care. Deputies then transport the prisoner back to Le Mars then return to Storm Lake, taking a full day away from patrol or other duties. "There are a lot of additional costs that are hard to track," McClure said.
With a new and larger jail with better classification capabilities, McClure said juveniles brought in on a Friday could then be held until the following Monday, saving the county significantly. Taking juveniles to the Youth Emergency Services Center in Cherokee now takes priority over even a burglary investigation, he said.
The current jail has one cell with 14 people - and no classification. "We have good, bad, and evil in there," McClure said.
"I always wonder how they're dealing with each other."
John Geist, vice president of public finance for Ruan Securities of Des Moines, a company that has worked with the county in bond financing for the Buena Vista Regional Medical Center and the dredge the county purchased for Storm Lake, was also present Tuesday. Geist said he would have preferred a higher contingency fund than the $184,000 that Omaha architect Rod Moore had provided for in his cost estimates for the jail project.
"It sounds lower than what we would expect a contingency fund to be," Geist said. He said normally, there should be a 10 percent contingency fund during the planning phase of a project. Once bids have been let, that could drop to 5 percent, Geist said. "I think the contingency is lower than what we would normally see at this point," Geist said. "If they're (architects' estimates) usually within 10 percent one way or the other, that's pretty good."
Geist seemed satisfied that the county is posting a $4.8-million figure in the Nov. 8 jail bond election. Auditor Karen Strawn said the county can't spend more than the stated amount in the election resolution, even if the difference comes from sources other than a bond.
Geist offered some advice on the upcoming bond election.
"The key to passing a bond issue is to get information out to the point that they (public) can understand," Geist said. "Let them know these are estimated costs. These are estimated rates. They're not locked in stone at this point."
"There's concerns out there from some taxpayers" about the amount of the $4.8 figure, said Supervisor Jim Gustafson who voted against the figure last Friday in a special Board of Supervisors meeting.
"You will have extra legal authority to borrow," Geist said. "You will borrow what you need."
Geist said if the final cost figures should come in lower than the amount approved in the bond election, funds could go for any jail improvement or the extra money could be put into a debt service fund. He said another option would be interim financing in which the county could do short-term borrowing until the final jail costs are in.