WALKER -- The Cass County Board is trying to buy time to get on the same cycle as neighboring counties in an effort to see a regional jail eventually become reality.
Tuesday, the board voted to try to negotiate a contract with Hubbard County to board Cass inmates there in about two years.
This is in anticipation that current contracts for 10 inmates each at Morrison and Aitkin county jails at $48 per day will run out in about two years when those facilities will need the space for their own inmates, and those counties no longer will want to rent bed space to Cass.
It also is anticipating that Hubbard County's proposal to build onto its building complex to accommodate 50 to 120 inmates will become a reality before two years pass.
Cass commissioners strongly believe in the benefit of a regional jail concept to save money ultimately for all neighboring counties.
The problem, Commissioner Jim Demgen said Tuesday, is there is a revolving cycle of need, whereby no two of the counties are pressed for jail expansion in the same year.
Administrator Robert Yochum suggested, in light of this, Cass might consider partnering with the state rather than neighboring counties.
The main problem he sees is that when a county expands its jail beyond 60 beds (which Cass now is authorized to use in its existing jail), the state requires additional programming costs to serve inmates and operational costs escalate.
Yochum said he believes counties are best served by operating local jails no larger than 60 beds, with a regional jail taking the overflow.
Cass hosted a meeting with representatives from Wadena, Hubbard and Beltrami counties and the Leech Lake Reservation Dec. 29.
Comments at that meeting indicated Itasca has a regional jail site to offer near Cohasset. Beltrami has found a way to accommodate more lower risk inmates, so probably will not need regional jail services for six to eight years. Hubbard has its own local building plan. Wadena would look at a long-range plan.
Commissioner Rusty Lilyquist voted against the Cass plan to ask Hubbard to board Cass inmates in two years. He believes this will delay once again the thrust to see a regional jail become reality.
"I don't want to be complacent about a regional jail," Lilyquist said, adding that Cass will need an economic base to replace jobs that could be lost whenever Ah-Gwah-Ching state facility might close.
Cass over the last several years has tried to develop a regional jail plan with neighbors to the south and neighbors to the north. Each time, neighboring counties have had a less pressing need than Cass, where the local jail inmate population exceeds capacity.
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