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Two Iowa Counties Will Get New Jails; A Bond Issue Fails In A Third

Katie Peikes
The Woodbury County Jail was originally built to house 90 inmates and was expanded to hold 234. Today, those 234 beds are often maxed out.

Voters in two Iowa counties have approved bond issues for new law enforcement centers, allowing the counties to build new expanded and improved local jails to reduce overcrowding and enhance infrastructure.
Unofficial results in western Iowa’s Woodbury County show 57 percent of the voters who turned out for the special election supported a $50.3 million new law enforcement center in Sioux City. More than 4,500 people voted for the jail while nearly 3,350 people voted against it. The bond only needed 50 percent plus one vote to pass because Woodbury County and Sioux City formed a joint authority, a governing body to oversee and manage the project.

“I’m just happy. I’m really happy,” Sheriff Dave Drew said.

The new law enforcement center includes a jail with 440 beds, sheriff's and prosecutor's offices and felony courts, among other things. County officials say the need is critical because the current jail that opened in 1987 has a host of infrastructure issues, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems that have exceeded their 25-year life expectancy.

The new jail will not be up and running for another couple of years and it’s possible the HVAC systems could fail in the near future.

“We’re just hopeful that it doesn’t happen,” Drew said. “If it does, then I’m making phone calls across the state of Iowa to find bed space and that means a lot of transportation for our deputies and a lot of overtime.”

He continued, “So we are just kind of on a wing and a prayer hoping we don’t have to end up in that situation.”

Renovations to the 1987 jail expanded it from 90 beds to 234 beds, but today those 234 beds are often occupied. The new jail will have 440 beds.

Woodbury County Supervisor Keith Radig said the county still needs to finalize the design of the new law enforcement center and then put it out to bid.

“We’re going to have to look at a local project manager for this project,” Radig said. “We will work together with our financial adviser. We’ll be taking out the bond some time in January [2021].”

About 140 miles southeast of Sioux City, Guthrie County voters approved an $8.7 million bond for a new law enforcement center in Guthrie Center. Nearly 2,070 people voted for the jail – more than 80 percent support. Guthrie County plans to almost triple its current bed space, from 10 to 28 beds. The new law enforcement center will also house the sheriff's administration, patrol, jail services and other things.

Monona County, just south of Woodbury, failed to pass a $6.2 million bond for a new public safety center. The current jail has 12 beds. Officials were hoping to basically triple that, as well as build new jail and administration offices.

The bond received 57 percent of the vote in favor – 3 percentage points short of what it needed to pass.

Katie Peikes is IPR's agriculture reporter