[Source: “Johnson County Supervisors looking for input on how to improve jail and courthouse,” KWWL, 10 August 2013, by Michelle Corless]
After referendums to build a new Justice Center in Johnson County failed, county leaders are trying to determine their next step and they’re looking for ideas. In May 2013 and last November, voters turned down the county’s request to bond more than $40 million to build a new jail and expand the county courthouse.
Overcrowding and space issues still need to be addressed. Johnson County Supervisors say fixing the jail and courthouse continue to be priorities.
“Doing nothing isn’t an option,” said Janelle Rettig, Supervisor. “We have two buildings that are very much undersized and are beginning to get quite dangerous from a public safety standpoint and to our own employees.”
They say the jail’s security systems are out of date. It has 92 beds but averages 142 inmates per day meaning the county has to ship some to other counties.
The courthouse doesn’t have enough courtrooms to handle the county’s caseload.
After voters turned down proposals for a new justice center twice in less than a year, the county wants to hear solutions from voters.
“We heard some excellent solutions hear today,” said John Etheredge, Supervisor. “One gentleman talked about, you know what, making separate projects, so that way you know it is more affordable.”
Many people at the first input session say they think too many people are being arrested in Johnson County.
“I voted against the referendum before because I didn’t think there was enough emphasis being put on reducing the jail population,” said Patrick Muller, Hills.
Many think drunk University of Iowa students are filling the cells, which the County Attorney says isn’t true.
Supervisors say whatever the new proposal is, they’ll have to do a better job communicating with voters before they take another trip to the polls.
“It’s not convincing them that they should vote for it,” said Etheredge. “It’s providing all the information, all the facts, so that way they can make the most informed decision possible.”
The board is looking for help finding a proposal that can get the 60% super majority needed to pass a bond referendum.
“We need to come to some sort of consensus about what to bring back to the public,” said Rettig.
There will be six more meetings this month for people to voice their opinions. The board is also taking input on the county’s website.
For a schedule of future meetings or to submit ideas, click here.