Dave Peterson

Peterson

FOREST CITY | State jail inspector Delbert Longley believes Winnebago County should pursue a third vote on a proposed public safety center.

A bond referendum on a new facility to house a 22-bed jail, sheriff's office and emergency management and dispatch center failed for the second time in nine months Nov. 4. The referendum on $4.6 million in general obligation bonds got about 57 percent of the required 60 percent majority.

"I would like to see Winnebago County bring it back out in the spring," Longley said.

Longley said he's not an expert on bond referendums for public safety centers but he's yet to see one pass in a general election vote as was the case Nov. 4.

What Longley is an expert on is jails and the buildings that house them. And in his opinion, the Winnebago jail and law enforcement center has some serious problems. For at least six years, Longley has cited the jail and the overall building for code violations, safety concerns and structure issues.

He could order the county to close the jail but he'd rather work with the county to solve the jail and building problems. And he won't put a timeline on what he'd do if the county does not pursue a third public safety center vote.

"At this point, I don't want to venture to say," Longley said of whether he'd close the facility. "I could walk in tomorrow and see something that (would force a closure)."

That's what Arin Anderson, a member of the committee that studied options for the county's law enforcement facility, fears.

"One leak, one electrical issue," Anderson said. "It takes one thing and we're done. We can't keep stalling this thing out.

"I truly fear the state will shut us down."

Longley isn't the only person who can decide to close the jail. Sheriff Dave Peterson has the authority to close the facility.

"I don't know, it depends on how this works out, plays out," Peterson said of the possibility of his closing the facility.

The vote results have caused mixed feelings, Peterson said.

"We need a new jail desperately, and I want to do what's best for the county; that's obviously a new jail," he said.

If the jail is closed, the county still is responsible for housing county inmates. They will need to be transported to and housed at a neighboring county jail. 

Anderson said it may take a closure for the needed majority of voters understand the true costs of delaying a new jail.

"I fear it may cost us (county) more money before (residents) come to the right resolution," Anderson said.

A new facility would house inmates and county employees. 

County employees now work in a facility that has leaks and electrical issues, and have complained of headaches and illness they believe may be related to the building, county officials have said.

The county has removed asbestos and made other repairs but conditions are still not ideal and need to be improved, Peterson and Winnebago County Supervisor Terry Durby have said.

Anderson believes the air quality is bad.

"What if just one worker gets sick?" Anderson said. "What if in 10 years an illness comes back and it's because of that (existing law enforcement center conditions). One good lawsuit would pay for a new public safety center."

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