Warren County Explores ‘Reverse Referendum’ to Get New Jail

Inside the Warren County Jail. (WHO-HD)

INDIANOLA, Iowa – The county board of supervisors says the Warren County Jail is filled with mold, the smell of sewer gas, and is even causing respiratory illnesses but that didn’t stop voters from rejecting a $35 million plan to build a new jail last year.

The county is now considering a way to move forward without voter approval.

“Yes, this is an avenue that we are going to look at. It doesn`t bind them to it, bind them to anything at this point,” said Warren County Attorney Douglas Eichholz.

It`s called a reverse referendum and the Warren County board of supervisors voted 2-1 on Tuesday to explore the option.

Iowa code allows the county to approve a referendum for a new jail and bypass a public vote.

Taxpayers would then have 10 days to gather signatures from at least 20 percent of those who voted in November`s general election in order to force a vote. That’s about 5,500 signatures.

“We are at a point right now that the jail is in a condition where something needs to be done. I think everybody in the county government recognizes that something needs to be done,” said Eichholz.

Warren County Supervisor Doug Shull said, “It`s probably about a $15 million project and I just think the people of Warren County ought to decide if they want to spend $15 million for a jail or not.”

If the petition effort to force a vote falls short, board members would still be required to hold a public meeting on the project and could decline to move forward at any point.