Does Crow Wing County need a new justice center?
The Crow Wing County Board took its first official step Tuesday to find out. It authorized the county administrator initiate a feasibility study of the county's buildings and space needs and to complete a design for a possible justice center by the end of this year.
County Administrator Peter Herlofsky Jr. said, as part of the feasibility study, county staff will continue to look at maintenance requests of all the departments and determine whether the requests are appropriate to the long-term needs of the county.
"In some cases we may be able to defer maintenance items based on a plan for replacement," he said. "This will actually free up operating costs to offset some of the capital costs for a new facility."
County Attorney Don Ryan, who is a member of the county's Building Committee, said the county has looked at building improvements for the past 12 years.
Ryan said there is no more county space to put another courtroom. He said the county needs to look at ways to meet the concerns of the people and public security is a major concern.
He said currently an inmate in shackles is taken from the jail to the social service building, through the tunnel to the courthouse for a court hearing or trial. Ryan said the county has no secure way to transport the inmate.
"We need to address these issues," he said.
Herlofsky said the county is growing. He said the county needs to look at ways to become more efficient and one way to do this would be to have all the court functions in one building.
Herlofsky said a new justice center may not be the answer for the county's space and building issues, but a feasibility study is one way to find out.
Commissioner Ed Larsen said, "You don't need to be an expert to know when things need to be done. The tours showed me. I have a problem with focusing on a criminal justice center, I'd like to see more options."
"Six years ago this was an issue," said Commissioner Terry Sluss. "We've put a lot of Band-Aids on. This (whatever the county board decides to do with its building) will have to come to a referendum vote and we will need to do a good job. We will need to present the data as honest and as open as we can."
Commissioner Dewey Tautges said he was dismayed when he went on the tour and saw how many of the employees were stacked up together in their cubicles.
"We need to move on it," he said. "As much as we don't want to burden the taxpayers, we need to do a feasibility study to see if it is feasible."
Ryan said at this time there are no plans, designs or a construction date set.
In a separate interview, Ryan said, "The state deficit should not be an excuse for the county to not proceed forward with planning on what the county needs to do to serve its residents. The state will have its financial peaks and valleys. The state economy will become strong again.
"I have been the county attorney for nine years and there still are the same space problems there were nine years ago."
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