The new Warren County Justice Center isn’t supposed to open until April of 2022, but the Warren County board of supervisors spent close to an hour Tuesday talking about the impact the new building will have on next year’s county budget.
“It’s the building we don’t know how it’s going to run,” said Megan Andrew, budget coordinator and board assistant for the supervisors.
“It’s not going to be done for two years,” added Warren County Supervisors chair Aaron DeKock. “We have to plug in numbers that we really don’t have any grasp of.”
The supervisors met Tuesday in the first of a series of work sessions that will establish priorities and plans for the county’s 2022 fiscal budget. The budget must be submitted to the state of Iowa and certified in March. The budget year will run from July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022.
Construction costs for the building will be covered by a $29.9 million bond issue that county voters approved in August of 2018 along with a $3.5 million reoffering premium on the bonds. But supervisors must pay operational costs that include everything from utilities and maintenance to the building’s contents, said Andrew.
“We have to put all the things into it to make it operational,” Andrew reminded the board. “Sheets. Inmate uniforms. Toothbrushes. Toothpaste. Those are not included in the construction costs.”
The county also is waiting for the state jail inspector Delbert Longley to specify how many staff members will be required to run the jail, as well, she said.
Eventually, the money the county now pays to transport and board prisoners in other counties will be used to operate the new facility, she said. But in 2022, the county will be paying to operate and furnish the new facility while still paying to transport and board prisoners.
“The sheriff number is going to look like a very big number this year. And it is a very big number. It’s the second biggest budget we have,” Andrew said. “Where we’re going to sit at the end of the day, you’re going to be facing some very difficult decisions.”
Andrew said she and maintenance director Kirk Baker are looking at costs from the former courthouse to get an idea of what the costs for the new facility might be.
But the opening of the justice center also will open floodgates on what to do with other county properties. Andrew included a list for the supervisors in her budget packet..
“That’s kind of a bigger conversation that needs to be had,” said Andrew. “The justice center is slated to come online in spring of 22. You’re going to have some spaces that will open up elsewhere, how are you wanting to rearrange offices to fill up some of the spaces?”
The 911 dispatching offices and county attorney’s offices will move from the administration building where they are currently housed to the Justice Center.
The county also is leasing space at Westroads strip mall on Hwy. 92 for the sheriff’s department. That lease expires in October, which will require the county to go month-to month for the sheriff’s office until the Justice Center is finished. The county is four years into a 10-year lease on the court building, near Deer Run Golf Course on Hwy. 92, with an option to buy the building for $775,000.
“Why would we buy that?” asked DeKock.
“It depends on what you’re doing,” replied Andrew. The county also leases space for mental health and Department of Human Services offices but does not have the option to buy that property, she said. The state requires the county to provide facilities for those offices.
“Do you want to move them into another facility? Do you want to move them to the court facility?” she asked. The board also could decide to renovate the former Masonic Temple building across the street from the administration building, which currently houses House of Mercy. The building has two additional floors, but no elevator.
“So that's kind of a bigger conversation that we'll have to come back to,” said Andrew.
The board agreed that as it meets with department heads throughout county government to develop budget plans over the next few weeks, they also will discuss space considerations. The board then will hold a work session to talk through what they learn and decide how to proceed.