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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Commissioners vote in favor of jail renovation

BEMIDJI -- As with neighboring county jails, the Beltrami County Jail teeters on peak capacity. Beltrami County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with renovations that already began in 2009.

However, the upgrade will do little to increase inmate capacity. Instead, the $4.1 million remodel will update the facility and create more sorting areas to keep inmates out of general population.

“We’re probably not going to get a whole lot of extra beds,” said Beltrami County Jail Administrator Cindy Borowski. “But we’re going to get tanks where we can classify inmates better and not put them into general population.”

Approximately 15 additional beds will be added to the jail. Currently the facility can house 167 inmates. Borowski said the average population in 2013 was 116. Tuesday, it was 121.

“This is a very important safety and efficiency upgrade for the facility,” said Mike Clark with DLR Group, the architectural firm handling the remodelling project.

“We’re encouraged that you’re seeing the project through now,” said Beltrami County Sheriff’ Phil Hodapp. “We’d really like to see this done.”

Much of the remodelling includes mechanical and electrical upgrades which has kept the 2009 price-tag approximately the same as that in 2014 when inflation is factored into the equation. Between 2009 and now, the county has spent approximately $700,000 on needed upgrades to the facility.

Building construction costs, furnishings, continuation services and professional fees total $4.1 million. In 2008, the proposed total was $2.8 million.

Beltrami County Facilities Manager Steve Shadrick said to his knowledge there aren’t any grants available for a project of this scope at this time. County Administrator Kay Mack said funding would likely come from the county’s reserves, property tax levy and possibly bonding.

Delaying the decision to move forward would push the project back and that the new stadium and doubling of the Mall of America will start sucking the states resources, Clark said.

Commissioner Joe Vene said people see the jail as a new facility, when in fact the kitchen, an essential part of the remodel has been in use for more than 30 years.

The remodel project has been broken down into two phases. Phase one includes remodeling vacated court space to accommodate jail administration and expand the outdated kitchen. A new rooftop emergency generator is part of that phase. During last week’s power outage jail staff needed to distribute meals to inmates by taking the stairs because the elevator went out, which wouldn’t happen with a larger generator.

“We need to upgrade, we need to stay with the times and we need to do it for the safety of our staff and to decrease secure and non-secure interface,” Commissioner Jim Lucachick said.

During phase two the vacated kitchen space will become the new booking space and dorm space will become secure holding facilities. The former booking area would become a Department of Corrections mandatory and necessary medical unit.

The proposed plans drafted by DLR Group and EDI include a potential redesign to the lobby to utilize video visiting and programming. Programming would dissuade recidivism.

This spring, design schematics and development will be in progress. Construction documents will be prepared during this summer and the bidding process may begin as soon as September. Actual construction could start before the end of the year and last through the following September.

Commissioner Jack Frost originally had concerns about the county’s fund balance and the cost of the project but acknowledged it is “critically important.”

“The time is now, let’s get it done. If we wait longer, it’s just going to cost more,” Frost said.

Labor negotiations During a closed session, county commissioners discussed ratification of five labor contracts. All five were unanimously passed at the regular meeting.

Ratification of Teamsters non-licensed essential corrections and communications workers, non-licensed corrections sergeants, licensed essential deputies, Law Enforcement Labor Service sergeants and non-union compensation for 2014-2016 was set.

Under the new contracts, workers will receive a 1 percent cost of living increase in 2014, a 2 percent increase in 2015, a 1.5 percent increase January 2016 and another 1.5 percent increase July 2016. Flex dollar contributions will increase by $50 per year starting with $890 in 2014.

Health and Human Services Some people in Beltrami County are still dealing with the inefficiencies of the MNsure system. A component of a software update that would allow county to county portability didn’t work, Income Maintenance Supervisor Will Haubrich said.

“The unfortunate truth of it right now is that we still cannot make any changes to the cases as they have been entered into the system,” Haubrich said. “We can update information that somebody has already put in there but we cannot add information into it, which is significantly affecting our ability to process cases.”

A Department of Human Services report indicates there are approximately 2,000 pending MNsure cases in Minnesota; 250 of those are in Beltrami County. However, Jeff Lind, Social Services Program Division Manager, said that may not be a true number because the system generates an application for people who have checked eligibility on the website.

“Until DHS comes up with a change in the actual structure of the computer program, there’s nothing that we can do,” Haubrich said.

Commissioner Joe Vene said there are people that need services here and now.

“St. Paul is light years away from the people who need the services,” Vene said.

Commissioner Tim Sumner agreed.

“I’m still getting quite a few calls about cases,” Sumner said. “A lot of these people have been waiting a month or two months.”

There is a 45 day window in which applications must be processed. Sumner said the county spent $250,000 to improve the system and a year later, people are still having to wait.

Two things have been delaying some applications: insufficient information on the applications and a high turnover of employees in the county office due to people retiring. Lind said his department is not anywhere near where they want to be as far as catching up, but they are not purposely postponing processing of applications because of the 45 day period. During the regular board meeting commissioners approved the hire of one full time employee to serve as a case aid or social worker at Red Lake Family and Children Services.

County administrator Kay Mack added sometimes people are just not eligible for benefits.

Protecting the wetlands

County State Aid Highway 39 is on its way to being added to the ATV ordinance. Under the ordinance, ATV’s are not allowed to travel through ditches on certain roadways. CSAH 39 which runs from Pennington to Blackduck in the easterly part of Beltrami County is considered because of significant work that has been done and for Lady Slipper preservation.

Presently, the following CSAH’s are included in the ordinance: 1, 42 and 44 along with County Roads 700, 701, 702, 703, 704, 705, 706, 707 and 709.

County Engineer Bruce Hasbargen said the ordinance would also be changed to reflect the Department of Natural Resources definition of a class one ATV. The ordinance previously covered ATVs that were 900 cubic centimeters and a total dry weight of less than 900 pounds, upon approval by commissioners, it will read 1,000 cubic centimeters, or 1,000 pounds.

Hasbargen has heard from people both for and opposed to changing the ordinance.

“There’s lots of chairs to come here and air their opinions,” Lucachick said.

Hodapp said law enforcement has no issue with the change and the only time it is dangerous is when ATVs are driven on the blacktop. He cautioned that drivers need to slow their speed on soft gravel.

A second reading of the ordinance and public hearing will be held during the Beltrami County Commissioners next regular board meeting on Mar. 18 at 5 p.m. in the Administration Building at 701 Minnesota Avenue.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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