Commissioners to explore funding new jail

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-By Sandy Bond

In an intense meeting of two wills, Walworth County Commissioners at their Tuesday, Oct. 8, meeting ultimately made a unanimous vote to explore the feasibility of financing a 54-bed correctional facility.

Commissioner Duane Martin remained reluctant, and in the middle of the discussion phase and after some verbal sparring, Don Leff urged that they vote on his motion to explore the financing feasibility. He reminded the board that exploring the feasibility with Toby Morris, Vice President of Public Finance, Northland Securities, Pierre, and Jim Rowenhorst, jail commander, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, Rapid City, and Dean Marske, architect for HKG Architects, Inc. of Aberdeen, would be part of Morris’ package and wouldn’t necessarily cost the county money unless they go ahead with the project.

Martin has maintained that the feasibility study indicated that a new jail might not be needed until 2030.

And with the direction of the legislature and Senate Bill 70, Martin said, the commission would be building a facility to incarcerate individuals when the need is for more room for rehabilitation, not incarceration.

“The federal government doesn’t want to build any more jails; the state government doesn’t want to build any more jails; why would we want to build another jail?

There are so many unknowns,” Martin said.

With the both governmental entities taking the “just get tough on crime” mindset in the 70s and 80s and into the 90s, nonviolent criminals had simply filled jails to capacity. Mental and emotional counseling was lacking and this resulted in recidivism. There was no room for truly violent felons.

No one wants to address the issue of the mentally ill Sheriff Duane Mohr said, describing how state mental health facilities keep those sent be the county for counseling for a minimum time. Recently a vigilant jailer had prevented a despondent individual who was suffering from the affects of withdrawal from alcohol from taking his own life.

“We deal with this all the time,” Mohr said. “Nobody wants them (the mentally ill) including the hospitals, and there aren’t enough mental health facilities available.”

By three to one commissioners voted to immediately begin grading of the soil adjacent to the jail addition build in 1999, with Commissioners Phylliss Pudwill, Duane Martin, and Denis Arbach voting yes and Don Leff no. (Richard Godkin was absent.)

Martin and Leff had a difference of opinion as to whether Martin had been sanctioned by commissioners to undertake research on grading of the northeast portion of the newer facility. Martin reiterated that he felt he had been allowed the leeway of seeking technical advice from engineers Goldsmith and Heck and ultimately getting the project done as soon as possible with the limited amount of good weather left, and “didn’t feel he had ‘overstepped his bounds,” as implied, he said.

Trying to save the county money while ensuring that any future expenditure has a positive rather than a negative impact is his goal, Martin maintained.

He didn’t understand, he said, how commissioners didn’t seem to have a problem with spending $1,700 on linoleum for the landfill office and $5,000 insulating the highway shed in Mobridge when some seemed to have a problem doing a project that “is going to have to be done, anyway.”

When the jail was built in 1999, the right compaction was not reached, he said. The job wasn’t completed, several commissioners concurred, resulting in inadequate drainage with thousands of gallons of water with no place to go but back toward the jail’s foundation.  Grading with foundation block, pea gravel and clay topsoil from the landfill and with engineering costs might only cost $1,500 to $2,000. (Martin even offered to help with the project.) It might be sufficient, he said, and prevent the county from spending $35,000 to stabilize the foundation which might not work, anyway.  Martin and Highway Superintendent Penny Goetz reached a compromise with renting a Bobcat with a county employee operating it so that the county’s heavy equipment doesn’t compromise the sidewalk, lawn and sprinkler systems.

At the recommendation of Emergency Management Director Adam Fiedler, the burn ban was lifted. At the request of fire chiefs who are concerned that certain individuals are not complying when a ban is in place, fire chiefs will meet with law enforcement and commissioners to attempt to get on the same page to put more teeth into the imposition of a ban.

Presently, it is a Class II misdemeanor, and violations can result in 30 day jail sentence and a $500 fine.

 

 

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