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SIOUX CITY | Since there were much lower jail inmate numbers in 2017, Woodbury County officials are holding firm to the prior decision not to proceed with any pieces of a jail wing renovation project.

More than a year ago, the county was embarking down the path of trying to phase in several possible annual Woodbury County Law Enforcement jail modernization projects of about $1 million each. Combined, those pieces could have cost from $7 million to $12.6 million, depending upon when done, due to inflationary costs.

The Woodbury County Supervisors in September 2017 decided to wait and see when the next piece should be pursued. At the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Maj. Todd Wieck, a key administrator to Sheriff Dave Drew, agreed with the supervisors to not proceed with the jail projects.

"Right now, we don't need it. Maybe in a year or two, we will," Drew said in an interview outside the meeting.

County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor said "pumping the brakes" and continuing to keep the work on hold is still the best course, given the drop in the number of inmates.

Drew said from 2013 through 2016 the jail routinely had 235 inmates, which strained the use of cells. He added that a host of diversionary programs and steps by judges not to hold people in jail while awaiting court dates served to drop the jail numbers, so the typical amount in 2017 was about 180 to 190 inmates.

The count on Dec. 31 was 164 inmates.

"Our numbers are holding lower than in the first four years I was in office," said Drew, who is a month into his sixth year as sheriff.

Drew said the goal is to have the jail only hold people who are true threats to the community.

A Woodbury County committee in 2016 and early 2017 researched jail improvements and worked with a consultant top pinpoint needs. All the talks were the latest efforts in the long process to add more jail cells and modernize the jail building, which opened in 1987 at 407 Seventh St.

The Goldberg Group Architects consulting firm in January 2017 laid out a series of improvements. Those included remodeling the inmate intake section and a medical area layout on the second floor, plus an elevator from the main floor to the basement.

At that time, a sheriff's office official said it is imperative that phases ultimately approved include a minimum security housing upgrade and changes to 13 blocks holding various jail cells for varying populations on the second floor.

The county supervisors came close to moving ahead, discussing a timeline for tapping money from their annual Capital Improvement Plan borrowing for larger projects. There was a recommendation to begin with remodeling the inmate intake section first, but that was nixed by September.

Drew, Taylor and the other supervisors said Tuesday the renovations will remain on hold. Drew also said he agreed with Taylor that he will also back off previous plans to add eight new jailers to work in the facility, which months ago seemed a paramount need.

The supervisors are in the process of setting the 2018-19 fiscal year budget in meetings through mid-March. Drew said he won't put in a request to add the jailers for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"The sheriff agrees that as long as we do not build this separate area without adequately staffing it, he can see pumping the brakes as well," Taylor said.

In the FY 2019 budget talks Tuesday, the supervisors discussed proposals from the Secondary Roads and Emergency Services departments.

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County & Education Reporter

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