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Do not penalize Marshall County Sheriff’s Office

Iread the recent article in the Times-Republican that explained the county will be facing a million budget shortfall due to repairs in the courthouse and due to lower revenue coming into the Marshall County Jail because COVID has reduced the inmate population.

I was surprised to see the board is considering cutting the sheriff’s budget as part of its belt tightening strategy to overcome the budget shortfall.

I was on two jail study committees to pass a bond issue to build a new jail – an unsuccessful effort in 1994 and one in 1999 that ultimately passed and led to the construction of the current facility.

The reason Marshall County needed a new jail is because the State of Iowa forced the county to shut down its existing jail because it could not pass inspections and code. That forced the county to transport prisoners to other jails all over Iowa and pay those counties to hold our prisoners. The cost to our county averaged $200,000-300,000 per year and caused several deputies to shuttle prisoners all over the state, thereby taking them off patrol.

By the time these alarming costs to taxpayers were explained, it became very apparent that a new jail built on the site of the former county home and utilizing some of the existing buildings there would save the county taxpayers and ultimately pay to build the new facility.

As a side note, it was also discussed that some of the extra beds in the facility could be rented out to other counties as a revenue source, but even without this possible extra revenue, the jail would pay for itself through the cost savings from not having to house and transport prisoners outside of the county.

After operating the “new” jail now for 20-plus years, Marshall County has discovered the “possibility” of extra revenue from housing other county prisoners is not just a dream but has produced huge amounts of revenue by the sheriff’s department — extra money that has been given back to the county general fund. Over the years millions of dollars have been returned to the general fund – dollars that were not even counted on when the jail was built but because of good jail administration and lucrative contracts with other counties over the years, Marshall County has benefited.

Big time.

So now, after giving back millions of dollars to prop up the general fund for the county, a pandemic hits us out of the blue. Court hearings are cut back, prisoners are released, the inmate population plummeted and less “rent” money is returned to the county.

However, I hope because of 20 years of millions of dollars that have been returned to the county, the sheriff’s department is not going to be penalized and have to risk lives by driving vehicles with over 100,000 miles or let needed facility repairs and maintenance go by the wayside because of this unusual year.

We owe a lot to our sheriff’s department for all they have done to keep us all safe and for the millions of dollars they have saved taxpayers in the past for running a first-class facility.

I encourage the supervisors to look at this year’s budget as an enigma because of COVID and do not cut out the needed budget items requested by the sheriff’s department.

——

Mike Schlesinger is the former publisher

of the Times-Republican.

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