BEMIDJI -- Talk of the Beltrami County Jail's future was revived Tuesday by the Board of Commissioners after the process was slowed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During its work session, the board heard from Sheriff Ernie Beitel, said the discussion on whether to remodel the jail or build a new one needs to be restarted. However, Beitel also noted how the work won't be fast.

"We're taking things slow, and there are a lot of things I think we need to go back to the beginning on because there's been so much time," Beitel said. "Now we're at a starting point, and I think we can move forward."

Earlier in 2020, the county was in the process of creating several committees to steer the discussion, with participation from the public anticipated. But when the pandemic hit, the development was slowed to a standstill.

In his comments, District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson acknowledged the process halting because of the pandemic.

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"A year ago, we were ready to hit the ground running and really tackle this, and then we had the rug pulled out from under us," Olson said.

Discussion over improvements to the jail, which was built in 1989, have been ongoing for years, based on structural issues and space. With the latter, the jail has a total capacity of 132.

The jail was previously able to hold 170 inmates, but because of policy changes, it decreased. With the lack of space, the county has had to house inmates at other facilities at a cost of $55 per day.

Structurally, both the Minnesota Department of Corrections and jail staff informed officials of issues in 2019. In the time after, repairs were made to the jail, but the facility has still aged considerably in recent years.

Beitel told the commissioners Tuesday that a remodel or rebuild isn't urgently needed, but work should still get underway.

"It's something that's a long project, we're looking at five to seven years for this project from the time we started to when we move in," Beitel said. "Moving forward, we'll have to get approval for a request for proposals and a request for quotations, and a feasibility study, to get an understanding of what our needs are and what that would end up looking like. We need to build the reasons why we need a new jail and answer the taxpayer questions of why this needs to get done."

Economic assistance update

During its work session, the board was also informed Tuesday about changes to economic programs provided by the county. Because of the pandemic, several programs have added waivers, which have changed access for the public.

One waived a requirement to submit a signed application and allowed the ability for an individual to self attest to reported information. The waiver also gives Minnesota Family Investment Program users good cause in the case they fail to comply with employment and training requirements.

Another waived the eligibility redetermination for medical assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The end of these waivers depend on what authority created them. However, most have a correlation to when the federal and state peacetime states of emergency end.

Once the waivers do end, the county Department of Health and Human Services is expecting a large scale eligibility review and an increase of investigations by its fraud unit.