For the fourth time, Dallas County residents have spoken. This time, however, the result has turned out different.
The Dallas County voters overwhelmingly approved the proposed $22.9 million Law Enforcement Center on Tuesday night. Out of 6,699 total votes, 5,171, or 77.61 percent, voted “yes,” finally giving the referendum passage.
The 77 percent “yes” votes comfortably cleared the 60 percent mark needed to pass the vote.
Tuesday night, Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard expressed his thankfulness towards everyone involved in this referendum process as they helped get the public to support the idea.
“I can’t thank the employees of the Sheriff’s Department enough, the other county employees enough because they really got involved this time around and helped us out,” Leonard said. “They talked to their friends and families and it was huge.”
Leonard also expressed his thankfulness to the public for their support.
“I can’t thank the public enough for listening and educating themselves on this issue and going out and making an educated vote,” Leonard said.
The referendum saw a big increase in voter turnout this time around. The 6,699 that voted this time around is 1,367 more than the 5,332 that voted in 2015.
This time around, the County hired the Samuels Group to analyze numbers and costs of building the new facility versus doing nothing. They created flyers, a website and social media accounts to help educate the public for the vote.
“We did a better job of educating everybody and that really shows tonight,” Leonard said.
The results from Tuesday night are still unofficial until the Board of Supervisors canvass the votes on Tuesday, May 9. May 8 is the last day for absentee ballots to arrive in the Elections Office and must be postmarked May 1.
Last time Dallas County voted on a law enforcement center was in August of 2015 and also included the 911 Dispatch Center. A majority of voters voted “yes” in that election, but fell short of the 60 percent threshold needed to pass.
Leonard said that it was a learning-process over the last four times that they presented the idea to the public.
“We’ve listened to… the citizens of Dallas County,” Leonard said. “We heard what they had to say and I feel like we followed through with what they requested.
“They wanted more information and we did a far better job this time around, educating the public as far as the need and we assured voters that it is not a want. It is a need and once you start talking to the voters about the Chapter 50 of the Iowa Administrative Code and the standards that we have to uphold in the jail, I think, then, the light comes on with most people.”
Dallas County rolled out the proposition for the new Law Enforcement Facility as the current facility does not meet the needs of the growing county, according to the State Jail Inspector’s Office and Leonard.
The current facility can hold 36 prisoners, with 12 of those “temporary” beds to be taken away by the State in March 2018, taking the capacity down to 24 prisoners. Dallas County has had more than 60 prisoners at one time and, therefore, spent nearly $500,000 transporting prisoners and housing them at other facilities in Story County, Boone County and others.
Now that the referendum has passed, the State will extend the variance and allow them to keep those 12 additional beds until the new jail facility is built.
Transporting prisoners also has a tendency to be dangerous for residents and deputies. Leonard pointed to the death of Deputy Mark Burbridge of the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Department on Monday. Burbridge was shot by a prisoner who had escaped during a transport situation.
Deputy Pat Morgan was also shot during the incident but was not killed. Leonard said Morgan was one of the first officers he met when he first got into law enforcement.
With the new facility, Leonard hopes that Dallas County will be able to avoid situations like that with fewer transports taking place.
“That’s what I talked about. That’s what I was educating people (about),” Leonard said. “The dangers of transports, the dangers of these things and… some of this stuff is unnecessary.”
The new facility, which would be located in eastern Adel at the corner of Highway 6 and County Road R16, will be able to hold 130 prisoners and is expected to save the $22 million over 30 years, according to analysis by the Samuels Group, a firm hired to educate the public on the issue before they went to the polls.
According to www.dallascountyvote.com, the tax impact would be minimal to property tax-paying residents. For a home with an assessed value of $150,000, the annual increase would be about $22.97, while those with a $300,000 house would see an annual increase of about $31.08.
Many questioned why they couldn’t build a second floor on the current jail facility like they were promised about 30 years ago when the current facility was built. Even with a second floor, the current facility would be full and overcrowded on opening day.
Dallas County is the fifth-fastest growing county in the United States.
When the new facility is complete in 2019, the current facility will be renovated to become a second court room for criminal court appearances and trials. A second court room is required when Dallas County reaches a population of 82,000.
The dirt work is set to begin later this year so it can sit through one winter. Construction on the building is set to begin next spring and should take 18 months to complete.