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OUR OPINION: Woodbury County needs to build new jail

OUR OPINION: Woodbury County needs to build new jail

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At any level of government, need exists for long-range vision. Effective government requires and constituents should demand nothing less than elected leaders who look ahead.

Case in point: Woodbury County's jail.

The current jail at 407 Seventh St. is close to inmate capacity with no viable options for expansion and needs more than $22 million in what Supervisor Keith Radig described to our editorial board as "desperate" repair work. Those repairs include replacement of a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system county officials fear might break down completely, forcing a move of inmates during installation of a new system at an additional cost to taxpayers of $2.5 million for up to three months. The $22.5 million in crucial repairs does not address the building's poor foundation or continued mitigation of harmful benzene gas leaking into the structure.

We are disappointed the Law Enforcement Center isn’t meeting needs and is plagued by problems for which no easy, pain-free fixes exist 33 years after it opened, but we commend necessary, diligent jail study and discussion undertaken by today’s county leaders of what to do about it.

That dialogue produced this reality - Woodbury County is at a point where LEC shortcomings must be confronted with substantive action.

In our view, a strategy of spending money on construction of a modern new jail makes infinitely more financial sense over the long term than an approach of throwing good money after bad on repairs to the antiquated existing jail. Because we believe the responsible choice for the county is replacement of the LEC, we urge residents to cast a "yes" vote on March 3 for construction of a new jail on 38 acres of city-owned land at 3701 28th Street at a cost of $50.3 million.

A new jail would:

* Increase inmate capacity from 234 to at least 440 and provide space, if necessary, for additional expansion in the future.

* Eliminate the need to address mechanical problems.

* Eliminate the need to address structural problems.

* Provide improved safety for staff.

* Provide the potential for perhaps more than $3 million in revenue for the county each year through contracts with federal agencies, such as immigration-related agencies, for housing of federal prisoners.

Under the worst-case scenario of a higher interest rate on bonds and no revenue for housing federal prisoners, the owner of a home with an assessed valuation of $100,000 will pay between $20 and $35 per year more in property taxes for 20 years if the jail issue passes. However, the impact on property taxpayers will be reduced significantly if the interest rate is lower and if the county receives anticipated federal revenue.

The clock is ticking. County voters would be well-advised to approve this referendum so work can begin to build a new jail before time runs out on the old one.

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