It’s extremely likely Mills County residents will be asked to approve a bond issue Aug. 7, possibly for $6.2 - $6.5 million, for the construction of a new law enforcement facility that would house the county sheriff’s office and jail.
Mills County Supervisor Ron Kohn, chair of the Mills County Law Enforcement Planning Committee, said last week he expects the committee to make its recommendation for a public vote to the board of supervisors at a meeting later this month. The board of supervisors will have the final say in bringing the bond issue to the vote of Mills County residents.
The planning committee, made up of citizens from communities throughout the county, along with Kohn, county auditor Carol Robertson, sheriff Gene Goos and members of the Prochaska and Associates architectural planning and consulting firm, have been meeting since January to study the jail / law enforcement center issue.
The committee was formed to determine what direction the county should go to address on-going compliance concerns about the existing Mills County Jail, built in 1915. The jail doesn’t meet Iowa Department of Correction (IDOC) standards and could be forced to close if progress isn’t made toward the construction of a new facility.
The committee has studied several options over the past three months, including building a facility as an addition onto the south side of the Mills County Courthouse, purchasing property and building at another site in or near Glenwood or do nothing and eventually house inmates at other jails and detention facilities in southwest Iowa if and when the existing jail is shut down.
Kohn said housing inmates at other facilities would be the least cost-effective option. In addition to the obvious inconvenience and added hours deputies would spend transporting inmates, the county would still be required to maintain a “hold and transport” facility.
Kohn said strong consideration was given to buying the property that currently houses the Glenwood Police Department at 209 Sharp St., but the city’s asking price convinced the committee to pursue another option. The Sharp Street property is becoming available because the city is moving its police department into the building it recently purchased to house City Hall - the former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on the southeast corner of Town Square.
Kohn said the city’s initial asking price for the police department property was $700,000, but later came down to $300,000. Glenwood city financial director Brian Kissel gave a slightly different take, saying the city initially offered to transfer the property to the county in return for seven years of 911 communications services. After that offer was turned down, a second proposal was made that included three years of 911 services for the city. The planning committee rejected both offers.
Instead of the police department property, Kohn said the planning committee will recommend a 2.5 acre (approximate) site south of the Mills County Engineer’s Office on Railroad Avenue in Glenwood. The owner of the property, Pat Collins, has offered to sell it to the county for $55,000, Kohn said.
“In doing the cost analysis, that’s about a quarter of a million dollar difference between the two properties,” Kohn said. “The committee decided to look at putting that quarter of a million dollars toward the bond issue instead of the purchase of property.”
Kohn said once the bond issue proposal is finalized, it will be the planning committee’s responsibility to educate Mills County citizens, not only about the plans for the new facility, but also about the current condition of the county jail and the likely consequences if the bond issue were to fail.
“Folks have to realize if you don’t pass the bond issue, the cost of having the jail closed will be even more,” Kohn said. “That’s why the Montgomery County vote was successful. They realized the cost was going to be a lot more not to build a jail.”
The bond issue vote will need the support of a super majority (60 percent) for passage.