Polk declares no federal prisoners at new jail

Published 10:15 pm Monday, May 9, 2016

NEWS JailSign

Size of new jail reduced to 60-70 beds


By Leah Justice



Polk County Commissioners unanimously approved declaring that its new jail will not house federal prisoners.

Commissioners met Monday, May 2 and added the item to the agenda to clarify a couple points about the jail.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson said there have been questions from the public about the new jail possibly housing federal prisoners and he is not in favor of that. He motioned for commissioners to approve a statement from the board that the new jail will not include the housing of any federal prisoners.

In initial discussions last year about the need for a new jail, commissioners mentioned the possibility of housing federal inmates for income at the new jail.

Commissioner vice chair Keith Holbert said there’s also been talk about the new jail being 100 beds. Holbert said the new jail will likely be a 60-70-bed facility, not 100 beds.

Commissioner chair Michael Gage said he is also in favor of the new detention center not housing federal prisoners. The full board approved not housing federal prisoners unanimously.

Polk County is moving quickly to replace the current jail, which opened in the early 1970s. The majority of commissioners in April approved having a new detention center under contract for construction by this November, which is when three of the five commissioners’ terms will end. Commissioner Gasperson voted against having the jail under contract by November as well as being against the county seeking a loan over holding a bond referendum.

Polk is currently negotiating with the 4-H Center to trade 6.5 acres on Locust St. in Columbus owned by the 4-H Center with the county’s former adult day building and 6.5 acres there on Carmel Lane. The county is also proposing to give the 4-H Center $130,000 and move the Polk County Cooperative Extension Office to the Carmel Lane property.

The 4-H property was appraised for $365,000 compared to the county’s adult day building at $290,000, according to county figures reviewed last month. The additional $130,000 being negotiated for the county to give 4-H would be used to pay for a shell building, a BBQ and parking area improvements requested by 4-H.

Polk has also decided to seek bank financing to pay for the estimated $11 million new detention center and sheriff’s office facility.

Polk County hired Moseley Architects last year to do a feasibility study on what the county needs in a new jail. The study concluded that a new jail is estimated to cost $10 million with another $1 million to add an administrative section for the sheriff’s office. Moseley has also been hired by the county to design the new facility.

Polk County Manager Marche Pittman told commissioners last week that estimates are the debt service on the building will be approximately $1 million per year. Pittman also said the Moseley study indicated there will need to be an additional nine positions to operate the new jail, so including the added salaries and benefits, the county will be looking at adding approximately $500,000 annually to the budget, meaning essentially the county is looking at an additional $1.5 million per year to its budget for a new jail.

Pittman also said he has already included $500,000 in next years’ budget to pay for half the debt service. Commissioners have already indicated a tax increase will be needed to fund the new jail. One penny on the tax rate currently equals $277,522 in revenue. Commissioners have not yet discussed the new budget, but has a work session scheduled for Tuesday, May 17.

During commissioner comments last week, Gasperson said he and Pittman visited the jail and the number one thing he noticed when he got there was how clean the facility is and said that everything seemed great. He thanked the county maintenance staff for doing an excellent job keeping up with repairs. Gasperson said the sheriff’s office has functional obsolescence, which is defined as a reduction in usefulness of an object because of an outdated design, normally one that cannot be easily changed.

Gasperson said the current jail is highly functional and is being run well but there is significant obsolescence the county has to deal with. He said the lower level has a number of issues, and when the building was first built the lower level was just an open area and was not designed for its current use.

Gasperson also said he regrets some employees have to work down there and suggested the county look for spare offices in the county for those employees to use, speaking of issues with air quality and mold in the jail’s basement. Gasperson said he thinks anyone who wants to see the sheriff’s office and jail there is an open invitation. He also suggested current commissioner candidates see the current jail and sheriff’s office.