Sheriff Dan Marx
Sheriff Dan Marx
A consultant hired to help with a Winneshiek County Jail upgrade will go back to the drawing board in an effort to reduce the cost of the project.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors, Winneshiek County Sheriff Dan Marx told the Board he is working with consultant Michael Lewis of Shive-Hattery Architecture and Engineering of West Des Moines to modify the specifications for the project.
In November, the Board rejected bids for the project, after they came in more than double Shive Hattery’s estimates. The original estimate for the jail detention and security upgrades was about $300,000; however, when the county received bids for the project, one came in at $641,198 and another at $792,000.

Marx said Shive-Hattery will be reworking the bids “to take out things we thought were overkill.”
He said following the last bidding process, Lewis and Marx visited with bidders to get feedback on why their bids were so high.
“We plan to heed their (the bidders’) advice and rewrite the RFP (request for proposal) in a way that accomplishes what we hope to get out of the project and puts them (the bidders) a little more at ease … Hopefully this will get the bids down significantly,” said Marx.
Supervisor Mark Kuhn asked what the delay would do to the timeline for the project, and whether or not the costs would run into the next fiscal year.
“I think we might be using both fiscal years,” said Logsdon, referring to funding the project.
Marx said he hopes the new RFP will be ready by the end of this month.

In other matters, Marx told the Board adequate staffing at the jail continues to be a struggle.
“We are making it work with what we have,” said Marx.
Marx said the jail currently is short three people and a fourth is out of the office with a non-work-related injury.
Marx said he wanted to alert the Board it will be seeing significant overtime hours until additional people are hired.
Marx added, “We are covering the same amount of shifts and duties with significantly less people. It’s requiring more hours and overtime,” he said.
Marx added one of the hiring challenges is that in order to stay compliant with federal and state laws, they need to hire three additional females. When housing incarcerated female inmates, the jail is required to have a female staff member on the jail premises.
“We could possibly make it work with two females and one male, but it would not be ideal, ” he added.
Marx explained applicants are required to pass a psychological test in addition to a series of other tests in order to qualify for employment.
He said it can be a challenge to find people he feels are qualified.
“We need good, qualified applicants, specifically females. We want the best of the best. When you’re dealing with inmates who are incarcerated, we need someone with the highest character, honesty and integrity. I am not willing to settle for second best just to fill a position,” he said, adding compensation also can be an obstacle.
Marx said the county’s jailers are “way underpaid for what they do.”
Until we get the wages up to reflect the job they have before them in these positions, we will continue to struggle to attract and retain good employees,” he said.
“We need to significantly get the wages up to reflect the responsibility required.”

Good numbers
Marx said the staffing shortage comes at a tough time, as the jail is consistently seeing a strong census.
“We’re continuing with high numbers. We have agreements with Howard and Chickasaw counties,” said Marx.
Currently, all of Howard County’s inmates are housed in Winneshiek County, while the new jail/sheriff’s office is being built in Cresco and Chickasaw County’s female inmates are housed in Decorah.
Marx projects by the end of the Howard County agreement, it will result in approximately $200,000 in additional revenue to Winneshiek County.