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County board discusses options for aging jail

Fri, Nov 9th, 2012
Posted in All Government

Sheriff Daryl Jensen reviewed a Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) inspection report at the November 6 county board meeting. The county jail was inspected this past June. Jensen said overall they received a good rating, but the DOC wants the county to produce a long-term plan to address deteriorating infrastructure issues. The county jail was constructed in the late 1960s and is the second oldest jail in the state. Jails are considered to have a life expectancy of about 35 years.

Findings of the inspection noted issues with plumbing and difficulty getting repair parts for the aging equipment. Emergency Manager/Jail Administrator Kevin Beck showed numerous slides displaying a number of physical problems with the jail. Some things are not up to state code, there is a non-functioning gate to a cell, problems with showers, an antiquated HVAC system and so on.

Jensen insisted they need to have a serious conversation to determine our short- and long-term goals, adding a “fatal error is to do nothing.” Options would include following Dodge County’s example and not maintain a jail. What would be the cost of no jail? There would be transportation costs, liability, and windshield time for staff. Jensen noted there are neighboring counties with empty beds including Wabasha and Houston. Other options include renovating the old jail or building a new structure.

With the current building there is also a space issue. Could they build up or out for more space? Commissioner Chuck Amunrud added they have to consider the condition of plumbing under the building. Jensen said they use to be full to capacity which is 24, but recently have not been full since May.

Commissioner Randy Dahl noted that the jail is the last major county piece of infrastructure to be updated. He said he was not in favor of not having a jail. Dahl expressed a commitment to the Sentence to Serve Program. Jensen agreed without a jail the STS program would fall apart. Amunrud said they still will need staff whether they board inmates out or not.

Commissioner Duane Bakke said it shouldn’t be eliminated completely, suggesting the options be discussed in the Jail Committee. Commissioner Marc Prestby said they should look back at some plans made about 12 years ago. Dahl said they need to do a remodel right ,with Prestby agreeing a band aid fix isn’t the answer. Bakke suggested they have a professional consultant look at the jail and their options and make recommendations.

Electronic Document Management System (EDMS)

The board approved the purchase of an EDMS system at a cost of $129,660 of which 47 percent of that total will be reimbursed by the federal government, leaving the cost to the county at about $65,000. The system has been up and running in Winona County since July. The system allows staff to make much more efficient use of their time. It is estimated that community service staff spend up to 40 percent of their time filling in information on forms and shuffling paper. Once a client is in the system, a click can bring up information and fill in details on a form. This will allow staff to free up time and better serve the people.

Community Services Administrator Beth Wilms, who is shared with Winona County, said sharing expenses can lower the cost of getting the system. Mark Anderson, IT director for Winona County, listed the advantages including never losing documents or files and moving forward faster at a lower cost. Social Services Manager Gail Bunge said when someone moves they have to send files by certified mail which is expensive. The system will allow files to be transferred electronically with just a click.

Wilms stated they will look at opportunities to share staff between counties. The EDMS system will make it easier to share information. The system may allow a reduction in staff or at least not an increase in staff due to a significant increase in the volume of case loads. Wilms said it will take a couple of months to get up and running as paper files need to be scanned into the system. The purchase of the system was approved, recognizing the 47 percent federal reimbursement and ongoing maintenance costs that will be associated with the system.

Other Business in Brief

•The board approved a quote from White Water Wireless for $98,655.79 to replace Fillmore County VHF repeaters and tower base stations. This is necessary to meet the narrowband mandate for January 1, 2013. Jensen noted there are only 55 days left before the mandate kicks in. This will replace all necessary infrastructure equipment needed to be narrowband compliant. Jensen added, “We waited as long as we could.” A good deal of the equipment has been purchased with grant funds. Waiting for grants has saved the county considerable money. Chairman Tom Kaase maintained, “Many counties wish they had taken our path.”

Other quotes were approved for Motorola 800 MHz “consolettes” for dispatch and a combiner to put them on one antenna on the 80 foot tower by the jail. These will be paid for with Local Enhancement Grant and 911 funds.

•Forfeiture funds will pay for 26 new Glock pistols. Seventeen pistols will be traded in, which are 13 years old.

•A resolution to remove Whalan from Section 606.01 of the zoning ordinance was approved. Bakke said zoning administrator Chris Graves did a good job of doing what the board asked of him, which was to get all the cities to establish their own zoning ordinances. Whalan was the last one to do so.

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