PINE RIVER -- The Cass County Board met Monday in a planning session about county buildings.
It likely will be the first of several planning meetings, because the county faces an immediate need to expand the county jail. Minnesota Department of Corrections has found the current jail being used over capacity.
Sheriff Randy Fisher will be invited to future planning sessions.
Monday, County Administrator Robert Yochum updated the commissioners on changes made since they adopted and the state approved in 1999 a program for county building improvements.
Under that plan, the board set aside $560,000 annual bonding to expand and improve buildings to accommodate service expansion to meet county population growth.
This was the approximate amount the county had been re-paying on loans through the 1990s for earlier building projects, such as the existing jail.
The first step, now under construction, is to expand the social services building in Walker to accommodate health services. The plan is to sell the separate health services building when the addition is completed this fall.
When extension services moved to Pine River last month, soil and water conservation services moved from the courthouse second floor into space the extension formerly occupied next to environmental services, consolidating those two offices.
Environmental services has one desk at the new extension office in Pine River to begin offering appointments with property owners there as it currently does from the Pillager Family Center. Southern Cass residents will not need to go to Walker for zoning permits.
Funds have been set aside to expand the county garbage transfer station and recycling center in Pine River to accommodate increased solid waste volumes.
Bids will be taken later this year to build a separate garbage processing building, leaving the existing building solely to process recyclables, Yochum said.
Cass had hoped a regional jail might be built before the county jail reached capacity.
Monday, Commissioner Jim Dowson reported it is likely that will not be the case. Though Cass continues to be committed to the concept, only two or three counties remain seriously interested.
This will not be enough to make the project cost effective, Dowson said. The state Legislature failed to provide matching funds for that project last year or this year, he said.
Until a local jail addition or separate new jail is built, Yochum said, he and Fisher plan to meet with Morrison County officials to see whether a contract might enable Cass to board inmates there at a discounted rate if a set number of inmates is guaranteed.
Transportation costs are significant for boarding inmates in other counties, he said.
Cass board representatives tried to negotiate a proposal to close Michigan Avenue behind the Walker courthouse to enable the county to build a jail addition on the former Hope Lutheran Church property the county owns.
City officials objected to that, because Michigan is one of the few through streets in Walker. City officials want to leave it available as an option for future Highway 371 state improvements, Yochum said.
Earlier this month, residents attending a city public hearing voiced strong objection to a county proposal that the city sell property to the east of the courthouse to the county. An historic museum/chamber of commerce building and rock garden currently occupy the city land.
City council members denied the second county proposal.
County commissioners Monday decided next to pursue the option of locating a separate, new county jail facility at Ah-Gwah-Ching state facility or purchase other Walker area land.
Another possible alternative would be to add onto the present jail to the north, running the building toward Highway 371 in front of the courthouse where a present courthouse parking lot is located.
Fisher said at Monday's meeting wherever the additional jail space is located, it needs to include at least 64 more beds than the present jail. The existing jail originally was licensed for 52 beds.
The board also will be faced with the need for additional courtroom and court administration space for an anticipated two more judges in the next few years.
The present law enforcement center could support two additional floors for that, Yochum said, but no additional floors can be built above the jail itself.
Yochum will meet with the new regional supervisor overseeing operations at Ah-Gwah-Ching to determine prospects for buying or leasing land there.
With the regional jail concept delayed, Yochum said costs for a local jail probably will run higher than the contribution Cass planned toward the regional jail.
The board planned in 1999 to keep bonding at the $560,000 annual repayment level it had been. Under this concept, as one building was paid off, another could be financed.
This probably will not be enough for a new, separate local jail or jail addition, Yochum said Monday.
Under state statues, Cass could levy up to $1,047,436 per year to repay bonds, Yochum said. The county might have to increase bonding payments to pay for the jail, he said.
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