Counties okay jail measure
By LeAnn Eckroth
Burleigh and Morton county on Tuesday approved a half-cent sales tax to pay for a combined $70 million jail facility, but Morton narrowly passed the measure.
In a single vote, Burleigh County voters approved funding the jail with a half-cent sales tax by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent. In Morton County it passed with 42 votes. The home rule charter question had 65 percent yes votes to 35 percent no votes. The question of the sales tax succeeded by a margin of 50.85 percent yes votes and 49.15 percent no votes.
“We expected it would be close. That’s why we held 28 public meetings between the two counties,” Morton County Commissioner Cody Schulz said on Tuesday. “We’re satisfied with the vote. This is the best long-term solution to our detention problems.”
“The next thing we need to do is sit down with Burleigh County and work out our long-term operation agreements,” he said. Going by early plans, Schulz said, inmates could start occupying the combined jail by early 2017.
Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert called the results “excellent news.”
“We’re pleased by the support we received from both counties,” Heinert said. He thanked the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and Bismarck Mandan Development Association for their support.
“This is going to be a solution to our jail problems. Now we can meet with the architect, put the final plans together and prepare for bidding this out,” he said.
The new jail, when completed, will be able to house 476 inmates in 213,000 square feet at a site in southeast Bismarck. It has the capacity to expand to 1,000 if needed.
Both counties sought the combined jail as a means to save on the costs of housing inmates in other facilities around the state. It’s estimated that both counties will spend $1 million alone this year to house the overflow outside their own jails. They have spent some $1.7 million the past five years keeping inmates in other cities’ jails.
By not housing and transporting prisoners to other facilities, it should offset the operation costs at the new facility, according to Heinert.
With both counties approving the half-cent sales tax, costs of the jail will be split, 87 percent by Burleigh County and 13 percent by Morton. The temporary sales tax is expected to pay off the jail in eight to 10 years.
“I’m thrilled,” Burleigh County Commissioner Jerry Woodcox said. “This has got to be one of the largest two-county efforts. It took a long time to get it done, but I can’t wait to get it underway.”