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KATIE ZERR: We must move forward together on the jail issue

Voters in South Dakota and Walworth County made their voices heard on Tuesday, casting ballots in an important and historic election.
South Dakotans elected the first female governor in our state. Kristie Noem will serve the next four years as head of the state, with Larry Rhoden serving as lieutenant governor.
Although I don’t always agree with Noem’s political strategies or with the national Republican agenda, I hope that she will make us proud that we chose her for this important post.
The voters of Walworth County showed that they would not be scared into voting for something they deemed unnecessary and overpriced. The jail bond issue, soundly defeated in the election, showed our elected officials that we are independent thinkers who do not respond well to fear tactics used by some in favor of the regional jail concept. Those who tried to push this through without presenting a clear and concise plan to the voters should take note. We expect more from those we elect and are not willing to make a $10.5-million bet without correct, factual information on the table. If the commissioners of our county cannot be united in support of this project, we will not support it.
We need to be confident that we are spending our money on something that fulfills the need of our residents first, without the numerous “ifs” associated with this project.
When questions are asked about building, operational, training costs and benefit costs, we expect those answers. That information should have been researched and available to the public.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this issue for me was when the county auditor, who has oversight of all financial books and records of the county and administers the budget, told the commissioners the county could not afford the increase in operational costs of the 70-bed facility, some completely ignored her. It was like they did not believe her. That was unacceptable to me.
The commission must now come together and work with the jail committee to move forward from this point. They must make a decision on which direction they will go and start forming a plan.
There have been some tense moments between county officials during this debate. The fact that the commission presented a divided front on this issue did not help it.
In my opinion it was doomed by the manner in which it was presented, especially in Mobridge, at the first public meeting. To tell a group of taxpayers that you want them to pony up $10.5 million but they don’t have the right to raise questions about the project is ludicrous.
We must move forward from this and do what is right for Walworth County. Do we need a safe facility for our jail staff and the inmates? Yes. The jail staff deserves a safe, well-run environment in which to work. That should be the priority.
This election was not about them, although they are directly impacted. Residents know they have a tough, stressful job and the current facility is not a good environment for them. We want them to be safe, to enjoy their jobs and to know they have the support of the residents of the county.
The election was about presenting a working solution to a problem. It was about missing information and too many unknowns. It was about asking taxpayers to take too many risks.
We need to put all animosity aside and find a solution to this problem. We need to research what is really needed to fill the needs of our residents. We need to look at all the angles, whether it be some kind of renovation and addition to the current facility or transporting our prisoners to another facility or building a different version of a new facility. All of these options need to be on the table.
The next step is to silence the rhetoric and get back to information with facts behind it. It is the only way to move forward.
I want to thank the county commissioners for their work to keep our county operating. Theirs is not an easy job.
Our law enforcement needs our support. They work hard to keep us safe. They deserve a well thought-out plan to meet their needs and keep them safe.
That is square one on this issue. We need to build a foundation on this square and move forward with a working solution that serves our county.