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County seeks state funds for jail project

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News Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
County seeks state funds for jail project
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Beltrami County will seek $1.99 million in state funds for its jail efficiency project, but commissioners split over needing local funds to match.


On a 3-2 vote, county commissioners agreed to seek public works bonding from the 2010 Legislature, with Commissioners Jim Lucachick and Jim Heltzer opposing.

But proponents said the jail also faces severe deficiencies that if not corrected, the state could mandate construction that could include building a new jail.

"I don't support this project," Lucachick said during the County Board's regular meeting Tuesday night, who also questioned why the project grew from $3.45 million in February to $3.98 million now.

"The project then was $2.8 million in construction and $600,000 in soft costs, which is 20 percent of the project," he said, defining soft costs as professional fees and payment for a construction manager. "That's a very high percentage for soft costs."

But County Administrator Tony Murphy said the soft costs also include a high contingency budget due to the nature of the project being renovation of old systems.

Murphy also said the new $3.98 million includes $201,000 in inflationary increases, according to a state-mandated 6.05 percent inflation increase since the project won't be started until fall 2010, if the money is secured, and completed within two years.

"If it was to just build to build it, it is not the time," Commissioner Jack Frost said. "But at 50 cents on the dollar and to correct deficiencies ..."

The 2010 session of the Legislature is typically when it considers a large bonding bill for public works projects, usually around $400 million. The deadline for consideration in the governor's capital budget proposal was June 25, and Murphy said the last item needed was the resolution of support from commissioners.

"This is a very difficult time for the county," said Heltzer. "We are already $2 million in the hole, and we are approaching state and we will need $2 million more."

Billed as a jail efficiency upgrade, Heltzer asked if the project could be split into what is necessary to correct deficiencies and leave out the efficiencies.

"Deficiencies and efficiencies -- the project is a mixture of both," said Sheriff Phil Hodapp, outlining that a new kitchen would be built as the current one can't serve the capacity in the jail. And upgrading 25-year-old controls systems would also be energy efficient.

"The systems that run the jail are deficient," he said. "They are old and falling apart and not adequate for the number of beds."

Hodapp said commissioners need to look at "the big picture" and that "the county administrator is trying to capture any opportunity out there."

The county is awaiting grant application criteria for federal economic stimulus funds, billing the project as a "shovel ready" energy efficiency project, Murphy said. That money may also require a local match, but if the county wins the state funds, that could be used for the federal match.

If the county needs to front $1.9 million, Heltzer asked Murphy how the county intends to raise it. Murphy said options include county-issued bonding or through county property taxes.

"The state bonds only for projects regional in nature, but since ours is shovel ready, it is taking a risk but the state may open up the rules a little," Murphy said.

"By providing an efficiency upgrade to the jail, we would also realize savings," said Commissioner Joe Vene. "It would also create some jobs at a time this community would be well served."

"If it's not done, the state will come in and mandate a new jail," said Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks.

"In a bad budget year, we'd have problems finding the money" to match, said Lucachick.

"We need to move this process forward," said Sheriff Hodapp. "Approving the resolution doesn't mean you've signed on the dotted line to accept it."

The county, if it is awarded capital bonding funds next year, need not accept the monies, Murphy said.

"The primary goals of this project are to reduce long-term energy and other operating costs of the building, to improve the indoor environment for staff and inmates, and to increase staff efficiency and productivity," according to the bonding request.

"Sustainable building concepts to be employed include: new building automation and security control systems; new high-efficiency boilers, chiller and pumps; new heat recovery and humidification systems; option for a natural gas-fueled emergency generator; high-efficiency lighting," it said.

The bonding request cites that operational efficiency will come from remodeling of existing occupied and vacant space to expand food service capacity, provide an efficient intake and release process, improve medical services, expand inmate programs, upgrade visiting, and provide adequate administrative and staff facilities.

"The addition of eight beds of inmate housing will improve the ability to separate and classify incoming inmates, for enhanced safety and security," it said.

It is intended that the work be done in phases, so as to not house inmates in other facilities during construction, Hodapp said.

Beltrami County has seen a 65 percent increase in bookings since the jail was built in 1989, Originally built to house 68 inmates, capacity has increased to 166 beds.

Pioneer staff reports