For a second time, Jackson County voters said “no” to a new jail.
About 57.5 percent of voters favored the $6.495 million bond vote, but the measure needed 60 percent to pass.
Turnout increased by 8 percentage points over last year, from about 21 to 29 percent of eligible voters going to the polls or casting absentee ballots.
Votes in favor were higher than last year’s 52.5 percent “yes” vote, but the failure of the second, completely redesigned, proposal has left some wondering what’s next.
The Jackson County Jail Advisory Committee will meet Wednesday, Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. in the county courthouse basement to discuss the next steps.
“Is the committee even needed anymore?” advisory committee chair Steve Schroeder asked the day after the vote.
The state has found fault with Jackson County’s current jail for years. Hallways and the booking area of the jail are cramped, and the Department of Corrections cites persistent odors, the inability to separate prisoners adequately, and numerous safety concerns.
The Department of Corrections could close Jackson County’s jail at any time, requiring all prisoners to be housed out-of-county. The state has largely refrained from closing county jails, however, as long as a county continues to act on the issue.
In early 2018, the state closed the Warren County jail. A handful of counties in Iowa are currently considering or building a new jail.
“As long as Jackson County continues to move forward, we’ll continue to work with them,” Iowa Chief Jail Inspector Delbert Longley said Wednesday after the second vote failed. He said people needed time to “reformulate” now that the election is over.
“Every situation is just a little bit different,” he said. “You’ve got to take it one step at a time. Hopefully, we can get something accomplished without any drastic moves.”
Schroeder, who also is the chief deputy sheriff, said the committee did its “due diligence” before the vote and that designers “did a hell of a job for us.” Before the second vote, a new team designed a jail with significantly more beds for about $500,000 less than the county’s first plan, which was voted down last year.
Opponents of the plan criticized its size, location and estimates of future operational costs. The committee could consider designing a scaled-down option in a third bond referendum, a possibility Schroeder didn’t sound keen on.
“We get one shot at this,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is build a jail that will have us housing out-of-county [inmates] eight to 10 years from now.”
Schroeder also expressed frustration that a $300,000 gift toward the jail project from the Dave and Penny North family of Bellevue must now be returned.
Also on the ballot was Auditor Alisa Smith, a long-time employee of the Jackson County Auditor’s Office who was appointed to the position after the resignation of former county auditor Brian Moore. Smith ran unopposed.
As the person running Jackson County’s elections but also a candidate, Smith said she had to be careful to avoid the impression of electioneering, only going to polling stations to answer quick questions during the day.
Unofficial election-night results show that absentee voters favored the jail bond measure by more than 68 percent. Smith said that 888 people requested absentee ballots, and 831 had been returned as of election night. Many voters came to the auditor’s office to cast their ballot, including 140 in the office the day before the election.
Precinct data shows that Maquoketa voters favored the proposal by close to 80 percent. It passed by 60 percent in Preston and Miles.
Voters in other parts of the county appeared less happy with the bond measure, especially in the far northeast corner of the county. In Tete des Morts township, which includes St. Donatus, about 31 percent of voters approved and 68 percent voted against the measure. LaMotte, Bellevue and Springbrook also voted strongly against the proposal.
Otter Creek, Monmouth and Baldwin split their opinions by exactly 50 percent.
Official results will be canvassed by the Jackson County board of supervisors Aug. 13.
The day after the election, Smith flipped through old election result ledgers. They showed that a bond referendum for a $190,000 new jail failed Oct. 28, 1969, by an almost 10-1 margin. Only 269 voters cast “yes” votes, while 2,581 voted “no.”
Less than a year later, during a primary election June 2, voters approved a revised $59,700 bond for a new jail, 1,479 to 634.