Jail a must on Nov. 8

Thursday, November 3, 2005

I think the word is out that there's an election next Tuesday to determine whether Buena Vista County will build a new jail. There still some fundamental questions that are being asked at some of the meetings that Sheriff Chuck Eddy and members of the county Board of Supervisors are attending. Quite frankly, I thought a lot of the answers to most of these questions had already been addressed. Apparently that is not the case, so let's try it again.

First of all, there's been some confusion about what it's going to cost to pay for a new jail. The important thing to remember is that it's already costing the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 $16.92 a year to do nothing. By doing nothing, prisoners must be hauled out of county where it costs anywhere from $40 to $70 a day to keep them in jails in neighboring counties. There's also the cost of about 50 cents a mile to haul prisoners. And there's also the cost of two deputies. Just going to Cherokee County takes three and a half hours. Take that times two for a pair of deputies and that's seven hours that county law enforcement is unable to spend protecting the citizens of Buena Vista County.

That means if you live out in the county and have a business or home that is burglarized, it could take longer for a deputy to respond. If there's a domestic situation or other possibly violent situation, granted, that's going get top priority, but if there's a couple deputies in the process of dropping a prisoner off at Cherokee, response time is going to be greatly delayed.

Doing something, or building a new jail, is going to cost that same owner of a $100,000 home $24.43 a year. Now, if you really want to know what a new jail is going to cost you, you need to do a litle math. The difference between doing nothing, what we're doing now, and building a new jail is going to cost the owner of that $100,000 home (the value after rollback) $7.51 a year.

The average home in Buena Vista County is probably valued at quite a bit less than $100,000.

The cost of doing nothing is of course likely to increase as mandates from the Iowa Department of Corrections on jail space come down the pike. Even if the county does $500,000 in remodeling, the state will probably put a cap of 12-14 prisoners, down from the current 18. That's up to six more prisoners that the county has to worry about hauling elsewhere and paying for their keep to other counties.

Finally, there's the danger to the jailers themselves. Due primarily to the cramped quarters, they have been assaulted by prisoners who have even thrown bodily fluids at them. The new jail will be far more secure and so safer for the jailers.

Everyone needs to get out and vote next Tuesday, Nov. 8 for a new jail. The cost of a new jail is fixed for a 20-year period and then it's done. The cost of doing nothing is only going to continue to escalate.

The jail bond issue must pass by 60 percent, something that isn't really easy. While a simple majority might not be so tough, getting that 60 percent of the vote is going to require getting those people who agree in principle to be motivated enough to vote in favor of the new jail project.

In the long run, paying for a new jail is a good investment. As the cost of doing nothing continues to skyrocket, it's only a matter of time until doing nothing costs the same as doing something, or voting in favor of a new jail Nov. 8.

There's the economic benefits as well. As construction is ongoing, there will be a big benefit to the citizens of Buena Vista County who will get jobs working on the project. Service stations will sell gas, restaurants will sell meals, and stores will sell items to the substantial number of workers on the jail project. Those are new dollars going into our area's economy - and that's something that helps everyone.