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County leaders bicker over jail fund spending at Board of Supervisors meeting

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Black Hawk County Jail

Black Hawk County Jail

WATERLOO — A proposed change in how inmate fees from the Black Hawk County Jail are spent gained no traction this week in a contentious Board of Supervisors discussion.

But the topic could be revisited at a later point by officials.

A resolution to make the change was shot down in a 4-1 vote with only Supervisor Dan Trelka, who spearheaded the discussion, in favor.

Currently, 60% of fees brought in from sentenced inmates for their room and board can be used for jail functions. The remaining 40% is used by the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office. Trelka wants to discuss rerouting that money to become unrestricted county funds.

Under Iowa code, the board has complete control over how the 40% fee revenue is spent.

Dan Trelka

Trelka

The issue was brought to the board’s attention after officials learned some counties in Iowa operate this way, rather than allowing the sheriff’s office to use the money. Assistant County Attorney Michael Treinen said the issue had also been on the radar of the two former finance directors.

Sheriff Tony Thompson said about 80% of the sheriffs in the state function the way Black Hawk County currently does.

“It’s interesting that this has been looked at since April but the sheriff’s office hasn’t been engaged in this conversation at all,” Thompson said. “We certainly invite the conversation because it gives us the opportunity to take a look at something that’s been in practice for over 30 years.”

Tony Thompson

Thompson 

Trelka said the timing is right to discuss the issue.

“We’re getting ready to enter our budget discussions, we’re hiring a finance director; this is a perfect step to initiate,” Trelka suggested. “There’s gonna be many more conversations and much more dialogue that we’re going to have, this is just the first step in that process.”

He said the resolution is “just reaffirming that we’re going to follow the law.”

“Work sessions between (April) and now probably would have been more appropriate,” Thompson said, of the place to discuss the matter.

Jail's health care services up for discussion

He noted that the 40% fee revenue has been used to buy things such as weapons, tactical equipment and carpeting so it wouldn’t come out of taxpayers’ wallets.

Trelka said he was worried about some expenses such as bouncy houses and cotton candy machines that were used for the sheriff’s office family night. Trelka pointed out that for the employees’ night put on by the supervisors, a bake sale was used to fundraise money.

Thompson responded that every Tuesday during supervisor meetings, expenditures are approved.

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After about 30 minutes of discussion, others chimed in about the topic’s sudden appearance on the board agenda.

“The first time I became aware of this was back in April when the finance director took it to me,” attorney Michael Treinen said. “Since then, the first time it was brought to my attention was Thursday of last week. If people have questions, maybe we dig into those questions before we try and take the action first.”

Supervisor Linda Laylin seconded this, saying she wants to feel more comfortable in the issue.

Laylin was joined by Supervisors Tom Little, Chris Schwartz and Craig White in voted against the resolution’s approval.

Little said he voted “no” because it would give him the option to bring the issue back up at a later board meeting.

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