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A tale of two counties

Emmet and Palo Alto supervisors discuss a shared jail, mental health, and other issues

February 14, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

Palo Alto County supervisor Linus Solberg said the county jail in Emmetsburg is very old and outdated. Built in 1904, the Palo Alto county jail has undergone repairs to plumbing and electricity, but state inspectors have told the county these are "bandaid" solutions.

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Like Palo Alto County, the Emmet County jail is connected to its courthouse. Emmet County supervisor Tim Schumacher said, "We're not going to pay a million dollars to build a new jail."

The Emmet County jail was built in 1982 and Emmet County supervisor John Pluth said it fits 12 individuals easily in five cells, but a census of 16 is an overflow situation. Jailers bring in cots to handle the overflow and there have been 20 individuals crowded into the jail. Emmet County also transports overflow offenders to other counties, including Palo Alto and Dickinson counties.

Emmet County supervisor Jeff Quastad said a regional correctional center for juvenile detention has cut Emmet County's costs in half for housing juvenile offenders.

"It made more of a difference several years ago when we had a lot of kids in detention. Lately our kids have improved and we don't have very many going to court," Quastad said.

Iowa has 99 counties. Ninety-six of those counties have a jail.

According to Iowa's chief jail inspector, Delbert Longley, "A jail can house prisoners for more than 24 hours, and typically less than one year. Two counties, Lucas and Franklin, have temporary holding facilities. This means they are allowed to house for 24 hours or less until the prisoner can be seen by a judge. If they are to be held for more than 24 hours, they are required to be transferred to a county jail."

Longley said Calhoun County is the only Iowa county without any jail or holding facility.

Iowa currently does not have any regional jails or multiple counties jointly operating a single facility, but there is nothing in Iowa Code that would prohibit it.

In other business, Palo Alto County supervisor Craig Merrill discussed a job vacancy created when Joe Neary retired.

Merrill said Neary handled sanitary issues, the master matrix, and tile repair in the county among other duties.

"We are looking to replace this position or change things up as far as the responsibilities. Is there something we can learn from Emmet County on this?" Merrill asked.

Kathy Preston from Emmet County Public Health joined the meeting to discuss the duties of an employee who deals with public health environmental and sanitation issues. Her duties include well permits and closures, environmental issues, septic systems, and other tasks. The employee, Amy Devereaux, is working on her masters degree in public health, Preston said.

The joint board also discussed tiling. Schumacher said, "We have tile maps we use to differentiate private from public tile."

Quastad said, "The biggest problem is everyone is so busy, it's hard to get any contractors to come out and work on the tile."

The supervisors also discussed issues with Iowa's mental health regions. Emmet County is in County Social Services (CSS) and Palo Alto County is in Northwest Iowa Care (NWIC). Kossuth County has applied to join NWIC, and if accepted, it would cut Emmet County off from CSS as regions are required to be made of contiguous states, and CSS is composed chiefly of counties to the east.

Pluth said the settlement for Kossuth County to get out of the CSS region is ongoing with a dispute about the debt.

"No one wants to let a county in who has debt for services, but Kossuth County added a levy to pay the difference between what they've paid and what they owe," Pluth said.

Merrill discussed the work of county engineer Walter Davis-Oeth, who works for both counties.

"Sharing Walter has worked very well for us," Merrill said.



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