PEQUOT LAKES - Collaboration between Cass and Crow Wing counties may extend to the Judicial Center going up in Brainerd.
Friday commissioners from both counties met in Pequot Lakes to talk about issues that affect residents across borders. Commissioners started the meetings to foster better communication between the counties and to seek opportunities for collaboration. The counties are working together on the Crow Wing County jail project, which is expected to open in March 2007. The Judicial Center should open in May or April 2006.
Inmates, health care, libraries, mass transit, methamphetamine prevention education, roads and infrastructure, sales tax and land-use planning were among agenda issues Friday.
In terms of the judicial system, Cass County officials said transportation costs between the jail in Brainerd and courtrooms in Walker are fueling board talks about funding courtrooms in Brainerd. Talks included potential funding for more public defenders or assistant county attorneys who would work in Brainerd. The courtroom could handle first court appearances, arraignments and uncontested omnibus hearings.
The next steps include discussions with representatives from both counties, court officials, area judges and sheriffs. Adding a courtroom could cost $317,000. Cass County is in the process of looking at expansion options for its courthouse in Walker. Crow Wing and Cass counties are both in the running for an additional district court judge.
Cass County Administrator Robert Yochum said they should look at what makes the most sense in terms of spending and an additional courtroom doesn't have to be in Walker. In fact, Cass County residents in Pillager and the southern portion of the county are closer to Brainerd than Walker.
In terms of land-use planning, Cass County Commissioner Jim Demgen said differences between the counties add to confusion when neighbors, separated by county lines, face different rules. Gull Lake, for example, covers five jurisdictions between the two counties and area cities. Commissioners are expected to bring the matter up at their regular meetings and are likely to ask department heads to have more of a dialogue between the counties.
Cass County officials said they could support a Crow Wing County effort to have the Regional Treatment Center in Brainerd become a pilot program for a meth treatment program. The RTC is at the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center. Yochum said the effort did not put them in conflict with Cass County's goals to get a hospital license for Ah-Gwah-Ching near Walker. Both counties are seeking alternative uses for the facilities the state plans to close.
Crow Wing County Commissioner Terry Sluss said another option for the BRHSC site is treatment for veterans. Demgen said such a facility would be closer for Cass County residents who may be using the veterans facility in St. Cloud.
Commissioners from both counties expressed interest in the half cent sales tax option on a regional basis as a way to help pay for infrastructure improvements.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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