Petition could stop construction of new Barnes County jail

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Construction of the new Barnes County jail is underway, with crews already pouring concrete for the new structure.

But work could soon be stopped in its tracks by petitioners who want to put the bonding measure for the new jail up to a referendum.

Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin said a new facility is still long overdue, citing poor infrastructure and a lack of cell space for inmates. North Dakota pressured the county to build a new jail after the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found the current jail had repeatedly failed to comply with dozens of safety standards.

Two inmate deaths also attracted scrutiny from state corrections officials, who said the jail "presents a danger to the health and safety of inmates, staff, law enforcement, visitors, and the public," according to past reporting by The Forum .

The new jail would include 40 cells and a training center, costing a little more than $16 million.


Many Barnes County residents agree that the county needs a new jail, or at least renovations, according to resident Rocky Earles, who lives in Oriska, about 10 miles east of Valley City. However, they take issue with the county commission's process in making decisions about the new facility.

"It comes down to the overall cost, people (are) upset that they didn't have (a) vote, and it just went too fast," Earles said. "The biggest thing people wanted was a vote. They wanted it on a ballot."

The county plans to pay for the jail through a 30-year bond. A homeowner with a $250,000 home would see property taxes rise $125 a year.

Earles, along with several others, went around the county, amassing hundreds of signatures for a petition of protest.

"Whether or not they were for it or against it, a lot of people say, 'Yes, we want to vote on it,'" Earles said. "Some people (are) flat-out saying, it's just bad economic times."

Earles said area farmers have told him they've suffered due to poor weather, and most recently, the coronavirus pandemic, and they can't afford to pay up, nor can the large retired community in the county.

According to a North Dakota statute dealing with bonds, if a petition comes forth with 5% of taxpayers signing in protest within 60 days, the project must halt. Earles says he got nearly 13% of the county in under two weeks.

He said it would be more cost-effective to renovate the jail, but wants the county commissioners to be more transparent.


"That's why we elect commissioners, to let them make decisions yes, but you don't elect a school board and just let them go ahead and build a school," Earles said. "It gets put to a bond; it gets put to a vote."

None of the five Barnes County commissioners responded to multiple requests for comment last week.

The Barnes County auditor, Beth Didier, said she does have the petition, but there's no timeline on what's next in the process.

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