SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Clay County voters rejected a proposed new courthouse, jail and law enforcement center by a roughly 2 to 1 margin in 2021.
A proposal to build a new jail and LEC will be back on the ballot this November.
Clay County commissioners have proposed a $42.8 million bond to build a new jail and LEC. The LEC is shared with the city of Vermillion.
“The original proposal that failed because it included the full courthouse, jail and LEC,” said Phyllis Packard, the vice chairwoman of the county board of commission. “The community was really up against us and wanted to keep our existing courthouse.”
The $42.8 million bond is about the same cost as the original failed proposal of $41 million for a new courthouse, jail and LEC.
“In a year-and-a-half, it’s no cheaper,” Packard said of the price. But the least costly part of the original proposal was the courthouse, she said.
Board chairman Travis Mockler said removing the courthouse from the plan should make the bond more appealing to voters. For those who wanted to continue to use the courthouse, “this should alleviate those concerns,” Mockler said.
The rejected jail, LEC and courthouse project did not mean the identified problems at each facility disappeared.
The county still had a 110-year-old jail that did not meet today’s standards. “It has inadequate space for 20 inmates,” county sheriff Andy Howe said.
The jail is 2,800 square feet. A 2018 study said 8,750 square feet are needed.
County employees had cramped work areas. Inmates pass through these work areas on their way to court. That creates stress for jail employees who may be working on computers and need to keep computer screens secure, Howe said.
The county converted the jail to a 72-hour hold facility to better manage a smaller inmate population, Howe said.
“We have one to five inmates at a time,” Howe said.
The change was based on the jail’s structure, a review by a consultant and advice from the county’s state’s attorney, Howe said.
The cells are bar structures, which makes the possibility of hangings “more of an issue,” Howe said.
Because inmates have different classifications based on crimes and other factors, there are requirements to house certain classifications in specified areas.
“We’ve had inmates sleep on cots and had empty beds because of classification concerns,” Howe said.
Still, the county needs to house more than a few temporary inmates. A study by a consultant in 2018 showed a need for a 44-bed facility.
“We know that 20 is inadequate today,” Howe said.
The need for a larger facility is evident in the need to house inmates in other counties, Howe said.
Clay County is fortunate to be able to house inmates in Union County, which is about 13 miles away in Elk Point, Howe said. There have been times the county needed to house inmates in Brookings.
Union County is charging Clay County $65 per day, per inmate but that will increase to $80 in January, he said.
Yankton County charges $85 per day, per inmate.
“We do not have a jail and it is costing us. It will continue to cost us,” Packard said. It’s better to have a jail in the county and paying employees in the county, she said.
Work on the existing courthouse
“Many people think it’s a gorgeous building and it must be kept at all costs,” Packard said of the courthouse.
On the other hand, she said, it’s an older building with offices that are difficult to retrofit for today’s needs, she said.
“It was difficult to get proper phone service. Technology is difficult (to add),” Packard said.
“As the county has grown, every office is, and will continue to be, crowded,” Packard said.
Mockler said the county has invested about $300,000 in the courthouse so far.
“We are doing the best we can,” Packard said.
The county plans to replace the heating and cooling system in the building, Mockler said.
HVAC systems and tucking pointing on the exterior are not improvements the public can see, he said.
Improvements for employees
Packard said the changes in the courthouse are needed for employees.
“We want to make it better for the employees,” she said.
A new jail would also make the working environment better for those employees, Packard and Howe said.
Packard said the LEC is crowded and she often wonders how the staff in their uniforms and equipment manage to fit in the space.
Although the staff have work areas in the jail, there is really “no place for staff to work,” Howe said.
A new jail with up-to-date security would also be safer than what exists now, Howe said.