Mandan News

Joint Detention Center is an issue of public safety

Letter to the editor
Cody Schulz
Morton County Commissioner

Cody Schulz,
Morton County Commisioner

Throughout Morton County, the June 10 primary election ballot will feature a number of local races for City Councils and City Park Boards. These races are incredibly important. It was Thomas Jefferson who said “That government is best which is closest to the people.” I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Jefferson on this point. Another important question that will be asked on June 10 is whether Morton County should build a joint detention center with Burleigh County. I would like to take this opportunity to share some history, facts and the process that got us to this point. A great deal of time and study has taken place and the County Commissions and Sheriffs of both Counties have concluded that the proposed detention center is the best, most cost effective, long term solution to our detention problems. Below are the five most important and commonly asked questions regarding the joint detention center.

Why do we need a new detention center?
Public Safety and Cost. Due to the increase in population and crime rate over the past number of years both Counties have experienced extreme overcrowding. The two facilities have a maximum combined capacity of 176 and the average daily population for 2013 was 219. The overcrowding has required housing prisoners as far away as Fargo to the east and Dickinson to the west. Transporting inmates takes deputies and police officers off the streets and the cost to house the inmates outside our current facilities has cost Morton County, Burleigh County, and the City of Bismarck over $1.7 million (in property tax funding) since 2009 and is estimated to cost over $700,000 in 2014. It is also important to point out that we are currently utilizing a number of alternatives to incarceration including the 24/7 sobriety program, drug patches, and ankle bracelets – as of May 23 2014, over 300 individuals are enrolled in these programs in the two counties. It is our intention to continue to utilize these alternatives whenever possible.

What are we buying?
A 476, bed 213,000 square foot facility, on the Missouri Valley Complex in Southeast Bismarck. Because the facility will be used by multiple entities and jurisdictions, a great deal of thought and planning went into the booking area. The intent is to get deputies and police officers in and out of the building as quickly as possible – and get officers back on the street. The facility will also have video courtrooms and other technologies that should create efficiencies and reduce the need to transport inmates. Also, the “core” of the facility – its laundry, kitchen, etc. – will be built with the capability to serve a 1,000 bed facility, which is the maximum expandable size of the facility. Because this facility is meant to serve as a long-term solution, we do expect to have excess beds in the first five to ten years of operations. Any excess or unused beds in the facility can be leased out to house inmates from other jurisdictions including local, state, and federal agencies. Any revenue generated would go to offset the operational costs of the facility.

How much is it going to cost?
The cost of the entire project is budgeted at $69.9 million. This breaks down to $51.0 million for the building; $14.9 million in site development, engineering, technology, and furnishings; and $4.0 million for the remodeling of the current detention space in the two Counties into usable office space. The costs and ownership percentage will break down to approximately 13% for Morton County and 87% for Burleigh County. A few other figures to consider – According to a 2012 study conducted by Kimme and Associates, Burleigh and Morton Counties will save at least $7 million on construction costs and $26 million in the lifetime operations costs by working jointly.

How are we paying for it? We are proposing the use of a half-cent sales tax to pay for the joint detention center. The two biggest reasons for this are 1.) We wish to keep property taxes as low as possible. Also, state law would require the Counties to use a maximum 10 mill dedication, which would take about 20 years to repay, thus we would be paying interest on bonds for 20 years. 2.) A half-cent sales tax would allow us to pay off the facility in approximately eight years, thus saving a great deal of interest. The sales tax will end upon payment of bonds for the project. Also, because Burleigh and Morton County are regional shopping hubs, some estimates indicate that over 30% of taxable sales made in the two Counties are made to people who reside outside of the two Counties. We believe this is a great benefit to the citizens of our two Counties.

How long is it going to take to build?
If the vote is successful, we anticipate construction and move-in to be complete in January 2017. This also builds in a training and transition period for detention staff as well as deputies and police officers.
In Morton County there will be two questions on the ballot, the first authorizes a Home Rule Charter and the second authorizes the half-cent sales tax. A yes vote on both questions is required for passage. I believe it is important to restate that, as a function of law, the sales tax will sunset when this project is paid off. The exact language of the sales tax ordinance states the tax “shall terminate upon final payment of construction bonds for the proposed project.” What I have discussed above is a very condensed presentation of an important topic. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the issue – a detailed video and PowerPoint presentation can be found on our website at http://www.co.morton.nd.us/ or feel free to contact me directly by phone or e-mail if you have any questions. My contact information is 701-391-9698 or cody_schulz@hotmail.com