What could the future hold for the Crow Wing County Law Enforcement Center?
County commissioners were hearing recommendations on that front during their committee meeting Tuesday morning.
Eight years ago, the county’s master plan identified a new law enforcement center on South Fourth Street just off Laurel Street by the new jail the county was building as part of its campus building project. The land is now largely taken up by an aging and buckled parking lot.
The existing Law Enforcement Center (LEC), cut into the hill behind the historic courthouse off Laurel Street, was expected to be demolished with the land becoming a parking area. The gray stucco LEC, with 26,400 square feet of space, was built in 1979.
Tuesday, board members looked through a 24-page space needs analysis by Wold Architects and Engineers. The space needs summary covered the forensic computer lab to bomb squad gear storage to interview rooms to evidence lockup and a 911 dispatch center.
Wold Architects reported constructing a new LEC would cost $15.3 million while adding on and remodeling the existing building could cost $13.2 million.
After the meeting, Administrator Tim Houle said money — from existing county savings, in fund balances, reserved capital equipment dollars and a $1.2 million savings from the 800 megahertz radio conversion — would cover about half the cost. There is also an opportunity to refinance in 2014, which could free up about $1 million a year in lower debt service if interest levels hold.
“The bottom line is we could move forward with this project without adding to the tax levy,” Houle said. But Houle noted there is always competition for resources so the LEC project is up against other county needs like the road system, or levy reduction options.
“The organization is healthy financially,” Houle said. “We do see opportunities to put together a plan like this if the board wishes without impacting the tax levy. We’re in good financial health, where you direct that becomes the difficult decision for the county board.”
The study pointed to a population growth estimated to raise the county’s number of residents to 82,000 by 2035 as one of the pressures on space needs as the county continues to grow. The space recommendation to build was noted for being 10 percent less space than originally recommended in 2004. Of the LEC space, the lower level’s 16,800 square feet is mechanical, storage or former jail space, which the analysis stated isn’t “conducive to repurposing for the law enforcement work areas.”
Sheriff Todd Dahl told the board members the space is needed.
Board Chairman Doug Houge said the report provided great information, but it was a lot to digest in a short amount of time. Commissioner Phil Trusty said he knows it’s been in the works since 2004 but he may be more supportive of spending on roads. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said she wasn’t prepared to make a decision on a direction to go Tuesday but said she’d like to tour the existing facilities.
Houge noted there is another option in continuing to avoid spending on the project. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, Houge said. “This is a big project.”