SIOUX CITY | Woodbury County Board member Jackie Smith, of Sioux City, is calling for a study of the Prairie Hills correctional facility before spending any more money on repairs.

The discussions came during ongoing budget talks. 

Smith is skeptical about spending $224,000 and making substantial repairs to the aging Prairie Hills building, where low-risk inmates are held. Jail diversionary programs and deputy training also take place at the facility, located a mile east of Sioux City, in the former County Home building. It was turned into a minimum-security facility in 2000.

The building has undergone numerous repairs, and board members in recent years have periodically discussed whether to continue its upkeep.

Smith said a study of the 100-year-old building should be conducted before spending any money.

"What if we put all that money into it and it is moth-balled in two years?" Smith said.

County Board Chairman George Boykin, of Sioux City, said a Prairie Hills study likely will be conducted at some point this year. However, Smith said it should be treated with urgency.

The discussion comes following criticism from the Taxpayer Research Council that county officials moved offices out of the Woodbury County Courthouse basement without conducting a study.

On Tuesday, Boykin said the Prairie Hills repairs should be carried out now, because waiting will drive up costs. 

Proposed repairs at Prairie Hills include $65,000 for a new roof, $70,000 for two new boiler units, $28,000 for a hot water holding tank, and $35,000 for a new bathroom/shower area. 

In 2011, in an effort to avoid closure, the county had to spend $25,740 to put in an elevator that was up to code. Work on the exterior cost another $80,000 that year.

The Prairie Hills discussions took place during a final review of proposed fiscal year 2014-15 departmental budgets during Tuesday's meeting.

The board on Tuesday also tentatively agreed to give non-union workers a 3.25 percent raise for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  Last year, the County Board embarked on a four-year plan to reduce the pay gap between union and non-union employees, by giving the non-union employees an extra 1.25 percent per year. Union employees get a 2 percent raise.

Decisions on the non-union wages and Prairie Hills repairs officially will be made when the board sets the budget by a March 15 deadline.

The major source of revenue for the county budget is property taxes, and board members are working to keep any tax increase minimal. County Finance Director Dennis Butler predicted the budget will total about $51 million.

The budget covers the year from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

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County and education reporter

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