To the editor:

To all Winnebago County citizens, March 4 is an important date.  A vote will be taken to either approve a $5.2 million dollar general obligation bond issue or go back to the drawing board to determine the most prudent way to meet our public safety center needs.  I believe there are too many unanswered questions to come to an educated decision in such a short time.

Approximately, one year ago, the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors meet with Delbert Longley who is the jail inspector for all counties in Iowa.  His advice to us was to take it slow and be methodical in deciding what to do.  He said “I will allow you up to five years for you to be able to look at every option available to you."  In talking with Kevin Pals, Cerro Gordo Sheriff, and Jay Urdahl, Cerro Gordo County Supervisor, they reiterated to me that taking our time and exploring our options was the prudent thing to do. Cerro Gordo hired a consultant for $30,000 to access their jail needs. When he was done, he was no longer involved in the decision making process.  Another way of saying this is, when he was done with the assessment, he had no motive to push for or against the plan and size of their project. He simply studied the needs and consulted Cerro Gordo with different options for their jail needs.

When Mitchell County built its jail, it had an agreement with the City of Austin, Minn., to house its inmates.  Mitchell County built its jail on that assumption, then Austin decided to build its own jail. Cerro Gordo built a jail on the assumption that the state and federal system would house their overflow in county jails. Unfortunately, for both Mitchell and Cerro Gordo Counties, that never materialized. They now sit with overbuilt jails and costs. 

This brings us too many questions that need to be answered before we commit to spending $5.25 million for a public safety center.

1.The referendum you will vote on has offices, work-out facilities, and showers for the Forest City Police Department. To not have an agreement or lease with the Forest City Police Department before we build, is not in the best interest of the County. Before we pass a $5.25 million general obligation bond, we should have a long term contract with Forest City before those offices are built.

2. Another important consideration to ponder is the operating costs for the new public safety center. Craig Matzke from the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, told me that  operating costs in Polk County drastically went up even with a building that is energy efficient.  Going from 5,000 to 20,000 square feet will increase our operating costs, period. 

3. In talking with Craig Matzke, the person who trains every law enforcement agency in the state, I posed this related to transportation costs with inmate statistics I received from Winnebago County's chief jailer Matt Gerdes, for fiscal year 2011-12, we booked 355 inmates into the Winnebago County Jail, of those 355, 220 posted bail before 24 hours.  By posting bail, they do not need to be transferred to another facility. Therefore, the cost of $4,188,000 dollars can be reduced by 62 percent to $1,591,000. The result of this reduction should cause us to look at different plan options other than the one being proposed.

We can all agree and have been told by the Iowa State Jail Inspector, that we need to become compliant with the law therefore I do agree that we need a new facility.  However, I believe there are far too many unanswered questions before Winnebago County commits to building the proposed facility. I believe there are other options that will provide the sheriff’s department and the 911 dispatch with new facilities and take care of our inmate population more cost effective than the proposed facility.

If you have questions please feel free to call me at 641-590-3055.

Thank you.

Mike Stensrud

Winnebago County Supervisor


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