Polk County Courthhouse

Tomorrow, Polk County residents will be asked to approve or deny Public Measure A which deals with the Polk County Public Safety and Judicial System Bond.  The language on tomorrow’s ballot reads:

Shall the County of Polk, State of Iowa, issue its General Obligation Bonds in an amount not exceeding the amount of $81,000,000 (to be borrowed in phases) for the purpose of paying costs of improving public safety in, remodeling, reconstructing, historically rehabilitating, furnishing and equipping the buildings of the Polk County Judicial System, including the Historic Courthouse, the Criminal Court Annex (former Main Jail), and the Polk County Justice Center Annex (former JC Penney/Wellmark Building)?

Here are some points that should be considered (sent by a friend of Caffeinated Thoughts who asked to remain anonymous) before you vote.

  • The last time we had a voter referendum for a new courthouse was when we were building the new Polk County Jail. The jail was originally designed with three court rooms in mind to alleviate the number of inmates transported downtown to the court house. A decision was made to make only one courtroom in the jail because some (5th Judicial District Judges & Attorneys) wanted a new courthouse at the time. The vote did not pass and now we are wasting millions of dollars transporting inmates downtown for an attorney visit or to be handed a judicial order setting a new court date.
  • Since over 90% of inmates reach some sort of plea bargain with the county attorney and do not take their case to trial at the courthouse downtown, there are other measures we should first take to minimize the cost to taxpayers before we go down this road again.
  • Initial appearances, bond reviews, pre-trial conferences, attorney visits, etc. can still be done without moving the inmate out of the jail. Video court and Skype are used in counties all over the United States to minimize transportation costs and keep the public and law enforcement safe.
  • Constitutionally, each inmate has a right to face a jury of their peers.  Since the plea bargain ratio is so high; do we really need what is being sold?
  • We would all love new facilities, but we should first use other methods if possible and seek greater transparency with the public.  Taxpayers should demand this.
  • Our elected officials previously chose to spread out many government services. The old Target at Martin Luther King and Euclid, now called River Place, was sold by a realtor with family ties to the Board of Supervisors. Now they want to move the Sheriff, Office of Professional Standards, Civil and Training (currently housed at River Place) downtown to the Wellmark Building, north of the courthouse to save money. This should have been done a long time ago, saving time and money to taxpayers.
  • River Point, located at SW 7th St. & Raccoon River, houses small claims, suburban traffic court, and mental health proceedings. They now want to move these court proceedings to the Wellmark Building, north of the courthouse. This should have been done a long time ago, saving time and money to taxpayers.
  • The Wellmark Building was purchased by the county to office the county attorney’s, sheriff, civil, children services and possibly a few other departments within the county. It is wise to put everyone under one roof instead of leasing multiple other buildings. This will centralize services and lower the time and money spent by the taxpayers.
  • Remodeling the old Polk county jail and the existing courthouse, however, is unwise. Polk County is asking taxpayers to approve an $81 Million bond referendum tomorrow.  We are being told this vote is about the safety of the deputies, families and kids. If they cared so much about these groups of people County Attorney John Sarcone, Sheriff Bill McCarthy, and Chief Judge Arthur Gamble would have made wiser decisions before. Please vote NO on Public Measure A tomorrow.

I agree with my friend.  When county elected officials made poor fiscal decisions in the past why should they be entrusted with the ability to borrow up to $81 million?  They should first look at other alternatives, rather than costly renovations, that will save taxpayer money.  The County should also find where it can make budget cuts in order to save for renovations needed after that.  Polk County taxpayers should vote NO on Public Measure A and not allow them to put us on the hook to pay off $81 million in borrowing.

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