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Cherokee County to hold Special Election

Monday, August 3, 2009

The proposed building
Proposed new County Jail to be decided on Tuesday

Cherokee County residents will go to the polls in a Special Election on Tuesday to decide whether or not to authorize Cherokee County to construct, equip and furnish a new County Jail and County Law Enforcement Center, including Sheriff's offices and a 911 emergency communication facility. A "no" vote would indicate that the voter feels that the current facility is adequate for the county's needs.

Polling hours are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

A Special Election is any election that is not a regular scheduled election called for by any taxing authority in Cherokee County for specific purposes, as defined by the Code of Iowa.

Tuesday's ballot reads: "Shall the County of Cherokee, State of Iowa, be authorized to construct, equip and furnish a new County Jail and County Law Enforcement Center, including Sheriff's offices and a 911 emergency communication facility, at a total cost not exceeding $3,750,000 and issue its General Obligation Capital Loan Notes in an amount not exceeding $3,500,000 for that purpose?"

Voting precincts for Cherokee County are as follows:

Precinct #1- Aurelia Community Center located at 235 Main St,, Aurelia, which includes Afton, Diamond, Pitcher, Spring Townships, and the City of Aurelia.

Precinct #2 - Cleghorn Community Center located at 102 W. Grace, Cleghorn, which includes Amherst, Marcus, Liberty, Sheridan Townships, and the cities of Marcus, Meriden and Cleghorn.

Precinct #3 - Quimby Community Center Main Street, Quimby, which includes Willow, Grand Meadow, Rock, Tilden, Silver Townships, and the cities of Quimby and Washta.

Precinct #4 - Cherokee County Courthouse lower level located at 520 W Main St., Cherokee, which includes Cherokee, Pilot, Cedar Townships, and the City of Larrabee.

Precinct #5 - Cherokee Community Center's upper level located at 530 W. Bluff St., Cherokee, and includes the City of Cherokee Ward 1.

Precinct #6 - Cherokee Community Center's upper level located at 530 W. Bluff St., Cherokee, and includes the City of Cherokee Ward 2.

Precinct #7 - Cherokee Community Center's lower level located at 530 W. Bluff St., Cherokee, and includes the City of Cherokee Ward 3.

Precinct # 8 - Cherokee County Auditor's Office at 520 W. Main St., Cherokee, for all Absentee Voting.

Rick Emswiler of the Emswiler Architect Firm designed the proposed new county jail. The building size would come in at 13,145 square feet. Construction cost is estimated in the report as $2,683,579 and Emswiler estimated the total project cost at $3, 033,265.

The schematic estimate was based on other projects that Emswiler had worked on, along with inflation, environmental, and materials cost. Emswiler's report to the Cherokee County Board of Supervisors also noted that cost was estimated only on the preliminary design only. Engineering designs and input were not included. Also not included in the report were fees from the bonding company, legal fees or any contingency cost. Emswiler recommended an additional five percent of the total project cost be used for the contingency cost.

If passed, the Board would approve Emswiler's design contract on Aug. 11. Completion of the jail design and development would take place between Aug. 17 though Sept. 25. On Sept. 29 a presentation of design development package would be held for the Board, Sheriff and Chief Jail Inspector.

Between October though January 2010, complete construction documents would be completed and plans would then be submitted to the Chief Jail Inspector for final review and approval and then review the plans with the Sheriff and the Board. The bidding period was suggested in the report to be from January through March 2010, with bids to be accepted and contract awarded on March 2, 2010.

The construction period was proposed for April through December of 2010, with the opening of the new Cherokee County Law Enforcement Center in January of 2011.

It was estimated by the Board that if the citizens of Cherokee County approve a bond it would come at a cost of approximately 78 cents a month, or $9.36 a year for 15 years for an average sized property.

The Cherokee County Sheriff's Department has continuously stated that the main reason that Cherokee County needs a new jail is centered around safety.

According to Chief Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Friedrichsen, the issue boils down to jailers having less face-to-face contact with the inmates. "Safety of the jailer is bar-nun the reason we're doing this. To work in this jail is unsafe," said Friedrichsen.

"One example is that we have no where to put an unruly inmate, there is no spot to keep them separated from the other inmates," stated Friedrichsen. "The honest truth is we're living on borrowed time. The implication of something happening is huge."

Friedrichsen described how they are not dealing with old fashion criminals anymore.

In 1998 the Civil Commitment Unit for Sexual Offenders (CCUSO) was created by the Sexually Violent Predators Act of Iowa to provide secure, in-patient treatment for sexual offenders who are believed to be a high risk for sexually re-offending. In-patient treatment is indefinite, with the length of commitment dependent upon the time required for each individual to complete the criteria for advancement through five treatment phases.

CCUSO provides a secure, long-term, and highly structured setting to treat sexually violent predators who have served their prison terms, but who, in a separate civil trial, have been found likely to commit further violent sexual offenses.

The 100-bed CCUSO is located in Cherokee on the campus of the Cherokee Mental Health Institute and serves sexually violent predators for all 99 Iowa counties.

Friedrichsen added, "CCUSO patents are literally unable to be held in society. Our problem arises when they commit a crime in-house so when a new crime happens in Cherokee County, we are force to hold them until their crime is sorted out and they are in our jail for a couple of months or up to a year.

"The CCUSO unit is a good thing for the community as a whole, it brings jobs to this county, but there is a high danger dealing with the patents and while they're up at the CCUSO unit they are patients but when they are here they're inmates. When you lock these patients in with our regular guests, you can imagine they don't get along with each other and again there is no way to keep the two separated. That leads to a dangerous environment, especially for the jailers who have to go in and break up a disturbance," said Friedrichsen.

He added "There is really no excuses for us not to have a safe working environment for the jailers. The public has to help the county to do that, every business out there is expected to provide a safe working condition for their employees. We should do the same.

"I understand that the price for building a new facility shocks people, but it could end up costing a lot more if something does happen. One lawsuit alone would cost taxpayers a lot more than the cost of a new jail," stated Friedrichsen.

"We are trying to do what's best for the taxpayers, that is why we just can't add on to the existing jail. If there was a addition to the jail everything in that jail would have to be brought up to code, electric, plumbing, everything, and a lot has changed in the last 25 years and it would cost that much more" said Friedrichsen.

"Getting the best deal for the taxpayer is also the reason why we want to separate from the city. It would cost that much more for taxpayers if they were to be incorporated with the new jail," said Friedrichsen.

As reported in previous articles by the Chronicle Times, the city would have to pay 25 percent of the construction cost of the proposed new jail if they remained with the county.

The current jail building was originally the Rural Electric Administration building built in 1951-52. The building was added onto in the early 1980's and was redesigned as a jail, offices and communication center for both the city and county of Cherokee and has 12 beds and employs four jailers and one part-time jailer.

"One more important fact is that we are truly at the mercy of the State of Iowa's Jail Inspector. Each year we are just barely in compliance with the State. The only reason we are in compliance is the fact that we have been in continuous use and have been making the best of what we have," said Friedrichsen.

The Chronicle Times was provided with copies of the Iowa Jail Inspector report for 2006 and 2007, in which both reports comment, "The Classification and separation of prisoners as required by IAC 201-50.13 (1) is difficult due to the design of the jail. Jail Administrator Marlene Ebert states that prisoners are moved to other facilities if the required separation of prisoners cannot be accomplished at the Cherokee County Jail."

The reports also recommended that the jail "Continue to move prisoners to a facility that can provide the required separation if separation cannot be accomplished in the Cherokee County Jail."

The reports also had additional comments, including "The jail staff is doing a good job in a facility that was not designed for current needs."

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