To the editor:
Last June, I was approached by Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard to head up a citizens committee to weigh in on a fourth attempt at passing a bond referendum to build a new sheriff’s office and jail.
I remember it striking me as funny that he would ask me to lead this group, considering I voted against it in two of its prior forms. Eventually, I agreed to head up the citizens group on two conditions:
- that the County “sell” their proposal to our group before agreeing to advocate for it and
- that there would be no Dallas County elected officials involved, other than Sheriff Leonard.
Thereafter, we formed our Citizens for Dallas County committee, with folks from all over Dallas County with differing views and ideologies.
For years, I have known that Dallas County had outgrown its sheriff’s office and jail. It wasn’t until I interviewed Dallas County Sheriff’s office staff and toured the facility, paying attention to just how crowded it had gotten, that I truly understood the immediacy of this NEED.
The current Dallas County Sheriff’s office and jail was constructed in 1988 when Dallas County’s population was under 30,000, and the Sheriff’s office had 28 employees. Today, Dallas County’s population is more than 82,000, and the department has 77 employees.
Dallas County’s jail has 36 beds, but our county averages 55 inmates per day. Sheriff Leonard explained that if a new Law Enforcement Center isn’t approved by voters, Dallas County will have 12 additional beds taken out of its jail by the Iowa State Jail Inspector, leaving us with 24.
From July 1, 2016, to January, 2017, Dallas County taxpayers spent more than $237,000 to other counties just to house OUR inmates. That figure doesn’t include additional costs for manpower, equipment, gas, insurance and so forth.
If we lose 12 additional beds in our jail, I estimate that taxpayers will be sending close to $800,000 to other counties to house OUR inmates.
The Citizens for Dallas County committee asked the supervisors to have their consultants, the Samuels Group, come to our meeting and pitch their proposal to us. I looked for reasons why I shouldn’t support another bond referendum, because I didn’t want my taxes to go up.
When the Samuels Group explained to our group that by passing a $22.9 million bond referendum and constructing a new Law Enforcement Facility, taxpayers would be saving over $22 million over the next 30 years, many in our group were skeptical.
We asked questions and made the Samuels group prove its numbers. Do you know what? They did. At that point, the Citizens for Dallas County unanimously voted to begin efforts to advocate for the support of the referendum.
On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, Dallas County voters have a choice to make. Voters can choose to continue to travel the course of spending upwards of $239.5 million to continue to operate a grossly overcrowded jail over the next 30 years. Or voters can choose to construct a new facility and save $22 million over that same period by VOTING “YES.”
Please join me in VOTING “YES” on May 2, and invest in our county’s fiscal health and public safety.
Mark J. Powell