Skeptics were sure a collaboration between two counties in a single jail project was doomed to dissension.
Cass and Crow Wing county officials said their joint venture defied conventional wisdom and has been smooth to date. Thursday, the two boards met in Brainerd and toured the Crow Wing County Judicial Center and the new jail.
The jail, connected to the Crow Wing County Judicial Center in downtown Brainerd, is expected to open this spring.
"There are a lot of other counties out there watching what we are doing," said Jerry Negen, Crow Wing County jail administrator.
Commissioners and officials from Cass and Crow Wing counties toured the new jail in Brainerd.
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Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson
In 2005, Cass and Crow Wing counties officially agreed to collaborate on the new jail planned for Brainerd. A $2 million contribution from Cass County offset costs of an additional fourth housing unit of 60 beds. Crow Wing County's original base plan called for three housing units with 60 beds each. Faced with a growing number of female inmates, partially because of methamphetamine charges, Crow Wing County added a 30-bed housing unit for women.
The $16.8 million jail is $36,900 below budget to date.
"The project has gone extremely well," said Cass County Administrator Robert Yochum. "That doesn't always happen in large-scale projects."
Representatives of both Cass and Crow Wing county boards agreed to set up a joint committee to see if the typically short arraignment hearings could be conducted via interactive television and save transportation costs. A report is expected within six months. Yochum suggested public defenders should be included with a list of officials tapped for the committee.
"This is historic having two counties, two sheriffs working to the extent we are right now," said Cass County Commissioner Jim Demgen. But he said the collaborative effort can go further.
With either Cass or Crow Wing counties in line for another judge, Demgen suggested if Cass received the judgeship, the counties could collaborate on courtroom use with the additional judge seated in Brainerd so inmates would not have to be transferred to Walker.
Other joint interests were discussed, including the future of Region Five with a consensus reached of giving the regional development commission another six months to see if it continues to move in the right direction before looking at other options.
Motorized trail use also was a prime topic of discussion. Crow Wing County Land Commissioner Tom Cowell said county government has to take into consideration both sides of what is often a contentious debate and a need to preserve the resource. Off-trail travel is a huge issue, Cowell said.
"People are doing pretty much anything they want to anywhere they want to out in the woods," Cowell said. He suggested better trail identification and mapping and consistency in markings as goals.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said she hoped the two counties will be able to work together on this issue with residents in both counties wanting longer if fewer trail systems.
"Wisconsin has a real good ATV system and we don't have to reinvent the wheel," said Cass County Commissioner Robert Kangas.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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