Dan Tarwater at his office at Twin Lakes Insurance in Lee’s Summit. Photo by Andrew Holt

What if the old county jail became a homeless shelter? Jackson County Legislator Dan Tarwater shares his thoughts on the new jail, mask mandates and future plans

By Kathy Feist

Jackson County Legislator Dan Tarwater is well known for his outspoken views on county matters. We caught up with the south Kansas City representative to get the lowdown on current news coming out of the county office, including the new jail and his opinion on the mask mandate. We even touched on his future career.  

For years, Jackson County has been searching for a suitable location to build the new detention facility, replacing the crowded county jail downtown. Last month, the County Legislature approved $7,050,000 in budgeted funds to acquire Heart Village Mobile Home Park located at 7000 E. U.S. 40 Highway for the new site. Tell us about that search. 

“We looked at 44 different sites. However, different rules and regulations for detention facilities, such as 1,000 feet set back from neighborhoods, bars, etc. eliminated a lot of them. We also wanted a location between the two courthouses [downtown KC and Independence] which further eliminated others. This site is a good location: off I-70 between downtown and I-435 near 40 Hwy.”

What are the advantages of the future detention center?

“The new detention center will have 1,188 units, all on one level. And it could be expanded on its 107 acres. The current jail should hold 640 offenders, but we have anywhere from  900 to 1,000 in there. There is no room for any activities for people in the jail or to move around. Some people will say, well good. But other people say it’s inhumane. It is not the safest place for the individual being held or for the guards. All of that has been addressed with the new facility. 

We plan on putting mental health services located on the same campus. 

Even though the new facility houses more offenders, it will save taxpayers more than $2 million a year because it’s a one-level facility. In the vertical building, staffing is an issue. Getting people up and down in elevators with violent criminals is a logistical nightmare. 

Heart Village residents will have until February to move to a new location to make way for the new county detention center. 


What will happen with the older building?

I have my own ideas. The building is probably worth about $8 million. The problem is it would take about $8 million to tear it down. Why not give it to the city, have a nonprofit run it and have it house homeless people?  It has showers, it has beds, it has a big kitchen so they can get meals. You could put services in there for mental health and other things like drug addiction that a lot of the homeless people need. You would have 700+ beds you could put people in. With a little money, remove the bars and make it apartment-style.  

Jackson County approved $1.7 million to relocate and assist residents of the trailer park. What does that consist of? 

The people at Heart Village are going to be taken care of. There are 75 people that own trailers in that park. We are paying to have a moving company come in and move those trailers anywhere in the metro KC area. For those trailers that cannot move due to deterioration, we will help them purchase a used trailer at a trailer park they want to go to. On top of that we are going to give them $10,000 in housing credit because some of these owners can’t qualify for a new trailer park. That money will pay a year’s rent. Any amount left over can reimburse the owner for new home improvements, like a new roof or dining room or dishwasher.  We are not going to give them cash. 

Two couples have  already purchased homes, used the $10,000 as down payments on their houses and are now building equity. 

When do you expect completion?

We are giving people until February to move. 

I expect the detention facility to be completed in about 2-½ years. 

In other news, you were against a mask mandate that Jackson County recently extended. Why? 

This is another doozy. I’m not against masks. I’m not against vaccines. I had Covid and I got vaccinated. 

The way I feel is [the mask mandates] are hurting small businesses and if someone wants to wear a mask, they should. And if they don’t want to wear a mask, that’s their choice. 

I am going to vote no to extend the mandate, knowing it is going to pass. (On August 30, the mandate was approved for extension to October 7.)

Next year, 2022, will end your 28 years as a county legislator. What are your future plans?

I plan on running for Kevin McManus’ Sixth District seat for City Council. Right now I do a lot of things that are “city” things. Like trimming the tree that’s blocking the stop sign down the block or resurfacing the neighborhood streets. I make the phone calls. I talk to the city. I make those things happen. One of the things I would like to control is the homeless issue we have out south. I have ideas on how to do that, too, as well as start making [south KC] a safer community. 


Originally published in the September 1st issue of The Telegeraph.

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