County to look at jail alternative
By Brian L. Gray
Before Morton County decides to move forward on a joint jail with Burleigh County, it will look into an alternate plan of running one of its own.
The Morton County Commission decided to inquire about cost estimates in expanding the county’s current jail in Mandan. The county could pay up to $50,000 for a space study with consultants Kimme & Associates, the group that is working with the Burleigh County Commission on the joint county jail.
The county held a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 29, to discuss its options regarding a jail and detention center. No action was taken at the meeting, but a consensus was taken to consider the motion of a space study.
Both counties have begun discussions in forming a jail that would help to better handle the increasing need for prison and jail cell space. Burleigh has expressed an interest in owning the new prison and leasing it to Morton County, but Morton recently decided that it wanted to own 27 to 33 percent of the new prison instead. Morton County is in favor of this agreement, but would like to see if expanding its current facility would mean a less burden on its taxpayers.
Both counties are in the process of working out a plan that would bring a joint jail to the Missouri Valley Complex fairgrounds in Bismarck at the cost of $50 million. The proposed joint jail between both counties would be administered by the Burleigh County Jail staff. It would also include a video courtroom, which would allow prisoners to appear in court from a different location and would mean less transport costs for Morton County.
In the meantime, Morton County commissioners Bruce Strinden and Cody Schulz will also meet with members of the Burleigh County Commission to begin drafting an agreement on the jail.
Strinden said if Morton County would own roughly 33 percent of the new jail, it should also have an equal amount of staff there as well. “At this time, though, (Burleigh County Sheriff Pat) Heinert is uncomfortable with that, and they want full administrative control of the facility,” Strinden said.
Schulz said this was something that could create problems in the future. If additional money was needed, Burleigh County could approve the costs and charge Morton County, essentially leaving the county with no say in operating costs. “This would mean the county would have no control there,” he said.
Mandan City Commissioner Sandy Tibke told the county commissioners that those concerns could be addressed in the draft agreement. “If you’re putting operating costs into the agreement, you could stress you would have some say in the budget and financing,” she said.
In 2011, Morton County’s daily average on inmates was 40.8 per day. In 2012 that number was at 44.8 per day. The county prison was built with 31 jail cells, and designed for 31 prisoners.
The current plan for the joint jail would give Morton County an additional 112 beds. Commissioner Andy Zachmeier said in speaking with other counties dealing with overcrowding prisons, that the county should look at its current needs and increase it by about 40 percent. “We need to build something that will assist our ongoing needs 20 to 30 years in the future,” he said.
The study for a possible expansion would include an estimated number of additional jail cells the county could build, and also if its needs could be built in its available space. Strinden pointed out that if it is not possible in the property the county jail sits on, it would be virtually impossible to purchase more land elsewhere in Mandan.
“If we expand over here we become landlocked. Then we’ll wish we had some control over there, because where would be go from there?” said Zachmeier.
“Whatever decision we come up with we’ll have to live with it for a long time, and our taxpayers will have to as well. So we need to make our decision carefully,” Strinden said.