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Clay County mulls half-cent sales tax to pay for new jail

MOORHEAD - Clay County leaders are seriously considering a half-cent countywide sales tax to pay for a new jail and very likely a new law enforcement center--projects that together could cost more than $50 million, said county board member Kevin ...

2369115+X202_03E0_9.JPG
Six prisoners live in this example of a cell of the Clay County jail in Moorhead. Cracks are appearing in the floor and a narrow doorway makes entry and exit difficult if a medical gurney is needed. Dave Wallis / The Forum

MOORHEAD – Clay County leaders are seriously considering a half-cent countywide sales tax to pay for a new jail and very likely a new law enforcement center-projects that together could cost more than $50 million, said county board member Kevin Campbell. Campbell, giving a report to the Community Facilities Task Force earlier this week, said the only other option to pay for the work is to have county residents pay higher property taxes. "We'll be able to generate a significant amount of money" with a sales tax, Campbell told the group, which met at the Moorhead School District's main office. Residents may also like having the cost of the facility spread among other people who live in the region who shop in Clay County, he said. "Believe me, the farmers I'm hearing from are all for the sales tax," Campbell said. He said it's important to limit the size of the sales tax to maintain a competitive advantage with Fargo and West Fargo. Minnesota levies a 6.875 percent state sales tax, while in Fargo and West Fargo, state and local taxes are 7.5 percent.
By law, sales tax votes must be made during general elections. To get the issue on this fall's ballot, the board needs to get the ballot language ready by about July 1 for printing purposes, County Administrator Brian Berg said. If voters approve a sales tax, it must then be approved by the Legislature, Berg and Campbell said. The county board has hired Construction Engineers of Grand Forks, which has offices in Fargo, to develop a cost estimate for the jail project, Campbell said. Berg said a design for the jail should soon be ready to present to the public. The design of the adult mental health and behavioral health sections of the facility are "coming along nicely," Berg said. Those aspects of the facility are what Berg and Campbell said will make it unique. The county board hopes the Legislature agrees, and is seeking $15 million in bonding authority in this year's state bonding bill to help pay for the facility. "We'll hope for anything we can get," Berg said. "We think this will be a model other jails can follow." Sheriff Bill Bergquist was in St. Paul on Wednesday to testify as part of the county's effort to get state assistance to build the jail. Bergquist said Thursday that mental health and substance abuse issues turn the criminal justice system into a revolving door for many offenders. "Right now, it's about 70 percent of all those in jail," he said. "That includes alcohol and drugs and everything." Lawmakers were impressed with the concept of getting offenders some treatment on site, because mental health and substance abuse is "a major problem" statewide, Bergquist said. Those inmates "are the tough ones" to get their lives back on track, he said. The Clay County Jail, which opened 1966, is the oldest operating jail in the state. It has plumbing and electrical problems, and concrete has had to be patched in jail cells to prevent inmates from using chunks of it as weapons, Jail Administrator Julie Savat said. The beds are too small to meet state standards, and there is too little property storage and programming space. There is no functioning kitchen and the laundry is inadequate, Savat said. The jail holds 60 prisoners, while the nearby annex (the former sheriff's home), holds 30 minimum-security inmates, she said. Over time, the rules governing jails have changed, and some beds were decertified, Bergquist said. However, because the county is on track to build a new jail, the state has agreed to allow the county to keep the current facility open. The jail is simply too small, Bergquist said. The county must send an average of 45 inmates a day, and sometimes as many as 66, to other jails. The cost to the county averages $52 per day per prisoner, Savat said. She said it's difficult to coordinate getting prisoners to and from their court dates from the other facilities where they're housed. The proposed jail is designed to have 204 beds, with the ability to expand, Savat said. The Law Enforcement Center is in even worse shape physically, said Moorhead Police Chief Dave Ebinger. "As far as the Law Enforcement Center goes, it is effectively a wreck," he said. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"2369121","attributes":{"alt":"The stove isn't working in the kitchen in the Clay County jail in Moorhead. Dave Wallis / The Forum","class":"media-image","height":"669","style":"font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 20.0063px;","title":"The stove isn't working in the kitchen in the Clay County jail in Moorhead. Dave Wallis / The Forum","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"1200"}}]]Moorhead's LEC has the same usable square footage as those in smaller towns like Alexandria and Fergus Falls, Ebinger said, and the Internet infrastructure can't meet modern law enforcement agency needs. "We don't have adequate work stations. There's huge expenses just to maintain this building," he said. "We're constantly having to make major investments in the roof, and wiring. We pulled up some carpet here last year and found there was some kind of 1970s coded wiring that had been placed under the carpet that was actually arcing and carpeting was being scorched." If it hadn't been pulled up, "it would have been a matter of time before ... we had a fire," he said. Ebinger said LEC plumbing is a constant challenge. "We've had raw sewage back up over on the sheriff's side," he said. "The air conditioning? Heat and air is a nightmare. It's hot in the summer and it's cold in the winter. Things go out and we end up having to find $20,000 or $30,000 to fix it. These are just constant burdens." Campbell said he expects a county finance committee - which includes some city staff members - to recommend the county build a new LEC and have the city rent it. The county board has authorized selling $10 million in bonds to pay for parts of the project, including acquiring land and homes on two blocks just north of the current facility, he said. Construction of the jail will start in spring 2017 and take about 18 months to complete. Building a new LEC would take about a year, Campbell said. He said it would include some indoor parking.MOORHEAD – Clay County leaders are seriously considering a half-cent countywide sales tax to pay for a new jail and very likely a new law enforcement center-projects that together could cost more than $50 million, said county board member Kevin Campbell. Campbell, giving a report to the Community Facilities Task Force earlier this week, said the only other option to pay for the work is to have county residents pay higher property taxes. "We'll be able to generate a significant amount of money" with a sales tax, Campbell told the group, which met at the Moorhead School District's main office. Residents may also like having the cost of the facility spread among other people who live in the region who shop in Clay County, he said. "Believe me, the farmers I'm hearing from are all for the sales tax," Campbell said. He said it's important to limit the size of the sales tax to maintain a competitive advantage with Fargo and West Fargo. Minnesota levies a 6.875 percent state sales tax, while in Fargo and West Fargo, state and local taxes are 7.5 percent. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"2369122","attributes":{"alt":"This laundry room in the Clay County jail in Moorhead functions but is quite cramped. Dave Wallis / The Forum ","class":"media-image","height":"480","title":"This laundry room in the Clay County jail in Moorhead functions but is quite cramped. Dave Wallis / The Forum ","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"407"}}]]By law, sales tax votes must be made during general elections. To get the issue on this fall's ballot, the board needs to get the ballot language ready by about July 1 for printing purposes, County Administrator Brian Berg said. If voters approve a sales tax, it must then be approved by the Legislature, Berg and Campbell said. The county board has hired Construction Engineers of Grand Forks, which has offices in Fargo, to develop a cost estimate for the jail project, Campbell said. Berg said a design for the jail should soon be ready to present to the public. The design of the adult mental health and behavioral health sections of the facility are "coming along nicely," Berg said. Those aspects of the facility are what Berg and Campbell said will make it unique. The county board hopes the Legislature agrees, and is seeking $15 million in bonding authority in this year's state bonding bill to help pay for the facility. "We'll hope for anything we can get," Berg said. "We think this will be a model other jails can follow." Sheriff Bill Bergquist was in St. Paul on Wednesday to testify as part of the county's effort to get state assistance to build the jail. Bergquist said Thursday that mental health and substance abuse issues turn the criminal justice system into a revolving door for many offenders. "Right now, it's about 70 percent of all those in jail," he said. "That includes alcohol and drugs and everything." Lawmakers were impressed with the concept of getting offenders some treatment on site, because mental health and substance abuse is "a major problem" statewide, Bergquist said. Those inmates "are the tough ones" to get their lives back on track, he said. The Clay County Jail, which opened 1966, is the oldest operating jail in the state. It has plumbing and electrical problems, and concrete has had to be patched in jail cells to prevent inmates from using chunks of it as weapons, Jail Administrator Julie Savat said. The beds are too small to meet state standards, and there is too little property storage and programming space. There is no functioning kitchen and the laundry is inadequate, Savat said. The jail holds 60 prisoners, while the nearby annex (the former sheriff's home), holds 30 minimum-security inmates, she said. Over time, the rules governing jails have changed, and some beds were decertified, Bergquist said. However, because the county is on track to build a new jail, the state has agreed to allow the county to keep the current facility open. The jail is simply too small, Bergquist said. The county must send an average of 45 inmates a day, and sometimes as many as 66, to other jails. The cost to the county averages $52 per day per prisoner, Savat said. She said it's difficult to coordinate getting prisoners to and from their court dates from the other facilities where they're housed. The proposed jail is designed to have 204 beds, with the ability to expand, Savat said. The Law Enforcement Center is in even worse shape physically, said Moorhead Police Chief Dave Ebinger. "As far as the Law Enforcement Center goes, it is effectively a wreck," he said.

2369121+X205_70E3_9.JPG
Six prisoners live in this example of a cell of the Clay County jail in Moorhead. Cracks are appearing in the floor and a narrow doorway makes entry and exit difficult if a medical gurney is needed. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Moorhead's LEC has the same usable square footage as those in smaller towns like Alexandria and Fergus Falls, Ebinger said, and the Internet infrastructure can't meet modern law enforcement agency needs. "We don't have adequate work stations. There's huge expenses just to maintain this building," he said. "We're constantly having to make major investments in the roof, and wiring. We pulled up some carpet here last year and found there was some kind of 1970s coded wiring that had been placed under the carpet that was actually arcing and carpeting was being scorched." If it hadn't been pulled up, "it would have been a matter of time before ... we had a fire," he said. Ebinger said LEC plumbing is a constant challenge. "We've had raw sewage back up over on the sheriff's side," he said. "The air conditioning? Heat and air is a nightmare. It's hot in the summer and it's cold in the winter. Things go out and we end up having to find $20,000 or $30,000 to fix it. These are just constant burdens." Campbell said he expects a county finance committee - which includes some city staff members - to recommend the county build a new LEC and have the city rent it. The county board has authorized selling $10 million in bonds to pay for parts of the project, including acquiring land and homes on two blocks just north of the current facility, he said. Construction of the jail will start in spring 2017 and take about 18 months to complete. Building a new LEC would take about a year, Campbell said. He said it would include some indoor parking.MOORHEAD – Clay County leaders are seriously considering a half-cent countywide sales tax to pay for a new jail and very likely a new law enforcement center-projects that together could cost more than $50 million, said county board member Kevin Campbell.Campbell, giving a report to the Community Facilities Task Force earlier this week, said the only other option to pay for the work is to have county residents pay higher property taxes."We'll be able to generate a significant amount of money" with a sales tax, Campbell told the group, which met at the Moorhead School District's main office.Residents may also like having the cost of the facility spread among other people who live in the region who shop in Clay County, he said."Believe me, the farmers I'm hearing from are all for the sales tax," Campbell said.He said it's important to limit the size of the sales tax to maintain a competitive advantage with Fargo and West Fargo. Minnesota levies a 6.875 percent state sales tax, while in Fargo and West Fargo, state and local taxes are 7.5 percent.
By law, sales tax votes must be made during general elections. To get the issue on this fall's ballot, the board needs to get the ballot language ready by about July 1 for printing purposes, County Administrator Brian Berg said.If voters approve a sales tax, it must then be approved by the Legislature, Berg and Campbell said.The county board has hired Construction Engineers of Grand Forks, which has offices in Fargo, to develop a cost estimate for the jail project, Campbell said.Berg said a design for the jail should soon be ready to present to the public.The design of the adult mental health and behavioral health sections of the facility are "coming along nicely," Berg said.Those aspects of the facility are what Berg and Campbell said will make it unique.The county board hopes the Legislature agrees, and is seeking $15 million in bonding authority in this year's state bonding bill to help pay for the facility."We'll hope for anything we can get," Berg said. "We think this will be a model other jails can follow."Sheriff Bill Bergquist was in St. Paul on Wednesday to testify as part of the county's effort to get state assistance to build the jail.Bergquist said Thursday that mental health and substance abuse issues turn the criminal justice system into a revolving door for many offenders."Right now, it's about 70 percent of all those in jail," he said. "That includes alcohol and drugs and everything."Lawmakers were impressed with the concept of getting offenders some treatment on site, because mental health and substance abuse is "a major problem" statewide, Bergquist said.Those inmates "are the tough ones" to get their lives back on track, he said.The Clay County Jail, which opened 1966, is the oldest operating jail in the state. It has plumbing and electrical problems, and concrete has had to be patched in jail cells to prevent inmates from using chunks of it as weapons, Jail Administrator Julie Savat said.The beds are too small to meet state standards, and there is too little property storage and programming space. There is no functioning kitchen and the laundry is inadequate, Savat said.The jail holds 60 prisoners, while the nearby annex (the former sheriff's home), holds 30 minimum-security inmates, she said.Over time, the rules governing jails have changed, and some beds were decertified, Bergquist said. However, because the county is on track to build a new jail, the state has agreed to allow the county to keep the current facility open.The jail is simply too small, Bergquist said. The county must send an average of 45 inmates a day, and sometimes as many as 66, to other jails. The cost to the county averages $52 per day per prisoner, Savat said.She said it's difficult to coordinate getting prisoners to and from their court dates from the other facilities where they're housed.The proposed jail is designed to have 204 beds, with the ability to expand, Savat said.The Law Enforcement Center is in even worse shape physically, said Moorhead Police Chief Dave Ebinger."As far as the Law Enforcement Center goes, it is effectively a wreck," he said.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"2369121","attributes":{"alt":"The stove isn't working in the kitchen in the Clay County jail in Moorhead. Dave Wallis / The Forum","class":"media-image","height":"669","style":"font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 20.0063px;","title":"The stove isn't working in the kitchen in the Clay County jail in Moorhead. Dave Wallis / The Forum","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"1200"}}]]Moorhead's LEC has the same usable square footage as those in smaller towns like Alexandria and Fergus Falls, Ebinger said, and the Internet infrastructure can't meet modern law enforcement agency needs."We don't have adequate work stations. There's huge expenses just to maintain this building," he said. "We're constantly having to make major investments in the roof, and wiring. We pulled up some carpet here last year and found there was some kind of 1970s coded wiring that had been placed under the carpet that was actually arcing and carpeting was being scorched."If it hadn't been pulled up, "it would have been a matter of time before ... we had a fire," he said.Ebinger said LEC plumbing is a constant challenge."We've had raw sewage back up over on the sheriff's side," he said. "The air conditioning? Heat and air is a nightmare. It's hot in the summer and it's cold in the winter. Things go out and we end up having to find $20,000 or $30,000 to fix it. These are just constant burdens."Campbell said he expects a county finance committee - which includes some city staff members - to recommend the county build a new LEC and have the city rent it.The county board has authorized selling $10 million in bonds to pay for parts of the project, including acquiring land and homes on two blocks just north of the current facility, he said. Construction of the jail will start in spring 2017 and take about 18 months to complete.Building a new LEC would take about a year, Campbell said. He said it would include some indoor parking.MOORHEAD – Clay County leaders are seriously considering a half-cent countywide sales tax to pay for a new jail and very likely a new law enforcement center-projects that together could cost more than $50 million, said county board member Kevin Campbell.Campbell, giving a report to the Community Facilities Task Force earlier this week, said the only other option to pay for the work is to have county residents pay higher property taxes."We'll be able to generate a significant amount of money" with a sales tax, Campbell told the group, which met at the Moorhead School District's main office.Residents may also like having the cost of the facility spread among other people who live in the region who shop in Clay County, he said."Believe me, the farmers I'm hearing from are all for the sales tax," Campbell said.He said it's important to limit the size of the sales tax to maintain a competitive advantage with Fargo and West Fargo. Minnesota levies a 6.875 percent state sales tax, while in Fargo and West Fargo, state and local taxes are 7.5 percent.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"2369122","attributes":{"alt":"This laundry room in the Clay County jail in Moorhead functions but is quite cramped. Dave Wallis / The Forum ","class":"media-image","height":"480","title":"This laundry room in the Clay County jail in Moorhead functions but is quite cramped. Dave Wallis / The Forum ","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"407"}}]]By law, sales tax votes must be made during general elections. To get the issue on this fall's ballot, the board needs to get the ballot language ready by about July 1 for printing purposes, County Administrator Brian Berg said.If voters approve a sales tax, it must then be approved by the Legislature, Berg and Campbell said.The county board has hired Construction Engineers of Grand Forks, which has offices in Fargo, to develop a cost estimate for the jail project, Campbell said.Berg said a design for the jail should soon be ready to present to the public.The design of the adult mental health and behavioral health sections of the facility are "coming along nicely," Berg said.Those aspects of the facility are what Berg and Campbell said will make it unique.The county board hopes the Legislature agrees, and is seeking $15 million in bonding authority in this year's state bonding bill to help pay for the facility."We'll hope for anything we can get," Berg said. "We think this will be a model other jails can follow."Sheriff Bill Bergquist was in St. Paul on Wednesday to testify as part of the county's effort to get state assistance to build the jail.Bergquist said Thursday that mental health and substance abuse issues turn the criminal justice system into a revolving door for many offenders."Right now, it's about 70 percent of all those in jail," he said. "That includes alcohol and drugs and everything."Lawmakers were impressed with the concept of getting offenders some treatment on site, because mental health and substance abuse is "a major problem" statewide, Bergquist said.Those inmates "are the tough ones" to get their lives back on track, he said.The Clay County Jail, which opened 1966, is the oldest operating jail in the state. It has plumbing and electrical problems, and concrete has had to be patched in jail cells to prevent inmates from using chunks of it as weapons, Jail Administrator Julie Savat said.The beds are too small to meet state standards, and there is too little property storage and programming space. There is no functioning kitchen and the laundry is inadequate, Savat said.The jail holds 60 prisoners, while the nearby annex (the former sheriff's home), holds 30 minimum-security inmates, she said.Over time, the rules governing jails have changed, and some beds were decertified, Bergquist said. However, because the county is on track to build a new jail, the state has agreed to allow the county to keep the current facility open.The jail is simply too small, Bergquist said. The county must send an average of 45 inmates a day, and sometimes as many as 66, to other jails. The cost to the county averages $52 per day per prisoner, Savat said.She said it's difficult to coordinate getting prisoners to and from their court dates from the other facilities where they're housed.The proposed jail is designed to have 204 beds, with the ability to expand, Savat said.The Law Enforcement Center is in even worse shape physically, said Moorhead Police Chief Dave Ebinger."As far as the Law Enforcement Center goes, it is effectively a wreck," he said.

2369121+X205_70E3_9.JPG
Six prisoners live in this example of a cell of the Clay County jail in Moorhead. Cracks are appearing in the floor and a narrow doorway makes entry and exit difficult if a medical gurney is needed. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Moorhead's LEC has the same usable square footage as those in smaller towns like Alexandria and Fergus Falls, Ebinger said, and the Internet infrastructure can't meet modern law enforcement agency needs."We don't have adequate work stations. There's huge expenses just to maintain this building," he said. "We're constantly having to make major investments in the roof, and wiring. We pulled up some carpet here last year and found there was some kind of 1970s coded wiring that had been placed under the carpet that was actually arcing and carpeting was being scorched."If it hadn't been pulled up, "it would have been a matter of time before ... we had a fire," he said.Ebinger said LEC plumbing is a constant challenge."We've had raw sewage back up over on the sheriff's side," he said. "The air conditioning? Heat and air is a nightmare. It's hot in the summer and it's cold in the winter. Things go out and we end up having to find $20,000 or $30,000 to fix it. These are just constant burdens."Campbell said he expects a county finance committee - which includes some city staff members - to recommend the county build a new LEC and have the city rent it.The county board has authorized selling $10 million in bonds to pay for parts of the project, including acquiring land and homes on two blocks just north of the current facility, he said. Construction of the jail will start in spring 2017 and take about 18 months to complete.Building a new LEC would take about a year, Campbell said. He said it would include some indoor parking.

Related Topics: CLAY COUNTYKEVIN CAMPBELL
Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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