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Floyd County Voters Approve $13.5 M Bond For New Jail

Floyd County Government.

Voters in a North Iowa county approved a $13.5 million bond Tuesday to build a new jail. More than 68 percentof Floyd County voters signed off on the referendum, clearing the 60 percent threshold needed to pass. Pressure to rebuild the 77 year old facilityhas been building for years.  An inspector from the state Department of Corrections first labeled the Floyd County facility inadequate in 2013.

The facilityis currently housed on the fourth floor of the county courthouse. Local officials say it’s one of the last jails in Iowa to have metals bars closing in its cells. County Supervisor Linda Tjaden says the design of the building itself makes transferring and separating inmates difficult.

“Every time that you’re bringing inmates in, we have one elevator, one stairwell. And so you’re constantly in this position of moving inmates in with the general public, which is not ideal,” Tjaden said.

The jail is rated to hold 19 inmates in four cells, which are arranged along a single hallway. Tjaden says that layout, and the fact it’s in the county courthouse, makes it very difficult to separate inmates by age, gender, and the severity of their charges, as the state requires.

“Currently our jail does not meet the needs of our citizens, our law enforcement, and also our inmates,” Tjaden said. “And it also doesn’t meet the current needs the state has for jails.”

The original 1941 lock system is still used to secure some of the units. Since that time, manufacturers stopped making the parts to repair it, meaning “in the event of a malfunction or emergency, the fire department would have to be summoned to cut the door open”, according to a 2015 study of the jail.

Tuesday’s vote was spurred by the suggestion from state inspectors that they may eventually shut down the jail, if the county couldn’t bring it up to code.

"We just don’t want to be in that position,” Tjaden said.

Tjaden said the county's next step is to focus on the construction aspect of the project, and open it up for bids. Under the plan, the county will build a new law enforcement center that will house the sheriff's office, a 32 bed jail, and a dispatch center, all adjacent to the courthouse. The bond will also fund renovations to the courthouse itself, including installing a new heating and air conditioning system and replacing windows.

A Floyd County resident with a home valued at $50,000 can expect to pay an extra $30 in taxes per year. Homeowners with properties valued at $100,000 will see their tax bills increase by $60. Farmers can expect to be taxed an extra $1.07 per acre.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter