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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Needs at county jail spur ongoing discussion

BEMIDJI—Shortages on staff and space have made operations at the Beltrami County Jail challenging in recent years.

At a Beltrami County Board of Commissioners work session Tuesday, Jail Administrator Calandra Allen shared reports on the jail from the Minnesota Department of Corrections. According to Allen, staff at the jail, opened in 1988, have dealt with a lack of space over the last decade in rooms related to booking, storage, property and inmate programs.

Over the past few years renovation work improved the kitchen and property rooms, but upgrades are needed in other parts of the building, Allen said. Additionally, Allen said the state reports show the building has an issue of condensation.

Aside from brick and mortar matters, another issue is staffing. Allen said a fully staffed jail would have 41 employees with 12 on part-time. However, the jail only has about 35 employees.

District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson said he'd like to revisit the subject at another work session, with an emphasis on a needs assessment by the National Institute of Corrections, completed in 2017.

"What I'm really curious about understanding is if our jail can continue functioning in the next five or 10 years," Olson said. "Are we going to have to realistically look at the possibility of a new jail. I'm also really interested in learning about the programming at the jail to understand what we're doing to help people transition to the outside."

On average, the jail has between 91 and 98 inmates, Allen said, with an operating capacity of 126.

Airport update

Another informational report given Tuesday was from Bemidji Regional Airport Executive Director Karen Weller. Weller shared projects and purchases the airport is undertaking in the coming months:

• A new $683,215 fire truck, expected in the fall.

• Concrete renovation work in front of the airport terminal, $910,915.50. The project will take place May-August.

• A new 84,000 square-foot concrete ramp for businesses to build hangars on. The $1.2 million ramp is to be built by 2020.

• Buildings to contain 10 airplane hangars, as well as space for four hangars dedicated to commercial use. The project, to be completed by the end of 2019, will cost $2.6 million.

When asked by commissioners about future expansion at the airport, Weller said most of the work comes from paved paths from runways to the hangars.

"We have ample space to develop what we have and our runways and taxiways are in really good shape. We can handle any plane," Weller said. "Where our challenge is going to come in is developing the infrastructure getting to where the hangars are."

For the projects listed above, Weller said the funding is through a combination of federal and state grants.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

(218) 333-9791
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