MAQUOKETA, Iowa — Jackson County leaders haven’t decided whether to take a third crack at bond funding for a new jail.
The Jackson County Jail Advisory Committee met for the last time — for the time being, at least — this week. It will transition to an ad-hoc group that can be called into service if county leaders opt for another bond referendum.
About 25 community members also attended the meeting, where discussion focused on the failure of a $6.5 million bond measure earlier this month. Though a majority of voters supported funding for the new jail, they fell short of a 60% threshold required for the measure to pass.
Committee members said there was low voter turnout and some people didn’t like the proposed site for the jail. Others heard the cost of the jail was too high and residents didn’t want their taxes raised.
However, the biggest reason members cited was that people felt they didn’t get enough information.
Supervisor Jack Willey said he was concerned about the low voter turnout.
“When only three people out of 10 go to the polls, that’s a big problem,” Willey said.
John Hansen, of Midwest Construction Consultants, was hired to assist in the jail design. He said a similar effort in Winnebago County took four tries to pass.
“There was a lot of misinformation about the project,” Hansen said. “We had a $300,000 donation, which is 4% of the project. We need to develop information, and it won’t take a lot of meetings. A jail is needed, and the costs will not go down.
“The first time, you didn’t have the right plan. This time, it’s the right one,” he added.
State officials have told the county they could close down the jail because of several safety and maintenance concerns, though they have stated a willingness to work with county leaders.
Jackson County Chief Deputy Steve Schroeder said he talked to Delbert Longley, the state jail inspector, last week.
“He told me he didn’t want to make a rash decision (about closing the jail),” Schroeder said, noting that Longley plans a visit in coming weeks. “He’s been saying for two years they are going to shut it down. He has told us Jackson County is the most unsafe jail in Iowa.”
Willey said the option on the land along Main Street, which had been selected for the jail, will be up at the end of the month. Supervisors will need to decide whether to purchase the land or let the option expire.
Willey said they’ve been told someone is interested in purchasing the property.
Several meeting attendees urged county officials not to give up and to pursue another vote.
Willey said supervisors will meet with Hansen next week to talk about the future of a new jail and another referendum. The next time a special election can be held is in March.