By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor
In an effort to attract more inmate business from neighboring counties, Houston County Sheriff Doug Ely and Jail Administrator Mark Schiltz discussed making some changes in the current jail fee structure with the county board last week.
The current rate to house a prisoner from another county is $65 a day. Ely said he checked with Fillmore County and their rate was $55 a day, while Wabasha County was $60.
“I really think we need to drop our daily fee from $65 to $55 a day to remain competitive,” Ely told the board.
“And if a county wants to bring us five or more prisoners, I think we could offer $50 per day,” Schiltz suggested.
When one of the board members asked what Winona County charged, Ely replied, “don’t even ask.”
Ely reported that the county jail currently has 21 prisoners, which includes 16 inmate, five work release and three females. With the current staff at the new facility, the county can house up to 30 inmates.
Ely added that they are currently charging $20 a day for in-county inmates on work release and $30 a day for out-of-county inmates on work release.
“I guess we are going to have to be competitive with other counties,” Board Chairman Jack Miller said.
A motion made by Commissioner Steve Schuldt and seconded by Commissioner Teresa Walter to set the daily fee at $55 per day per out-of-county inmate and $50 per day for five or more out-of- county inmates was unanimously approved.
Ely then told the board that he has received a number of inquiries about vending machines in the lower level of the Justice Center.
“We’re having more and more public hearings and meetings in the lower level and persons have been looking for pop or water,” Ely said.
The sheriff suggested that pop and other vending machines be situated in the lower level of the Justice Center and allow jail staff to manage the machines. All of the profits from the vending machines would go towards the purchase of new shoes, clothing and programing items, like books and other educational items for the inmates.
“This wouldn’t be any cost to the county, the machines would be a service to the general public and the money would be put right back into our jail program,” Ely pointed out.
Finance Director Carol Lapham felt the state auditor should be contacted first to make sure this would be acceptable. Ely said he was fine with that.
A motion by Commissioner Justin Zmyewski and seconded by Schuldt to approve Ely’s request for vending machines in the lower level of the Justice Center, contingent on state auditor approval, was unanimously approved.
In other board action:
Capt. Gary Eddy to retire
HR Director Tess Arrick-Kruger informed the board that Capt. Gary Eddy, of the Houston County Sheriff’s Department tendered his resignation effective April 6, 2012. Eddy has served the Sheriff’s Department for more than 25 years, 12 of which he has served as chief investigator.
A motion by Zmyewski and seconded by Walter to accept Eddy’s resignation was unanimously approved.
Ely then noted that the county had compiled a pool of very qualified candidates recently when the county backfilled a road deputy. He suggested that they contact the top candidates from the last search and conduct interviews to hire on another road deputy and then promote from within to fill the void with Eddy’s retirement.
Walter asked if the county really needed to fill the position right now. Ely responded that he doesn’t know of a single county in the state that doesn’t have a chief investigator and noted that when they were short one deputy last year, Eddy was forced to pick up other duties and still try to serve as the county’s chief investigator.
“That just wouldn’t work for the long term,” Ely said. “Investigations wouldn’t get done. Persons who were victims of crimes would be getting upset if they didn’t see progress on their cases. It wouldn’t be a good situation.”
“We had a very large response (when the county advertised for the road deputy position) and that talented pool is still very fresh,” Kruger said. “We could save about $1,000 by taking this route.”
Miller said he would like to sit down with Ely and Kruger and discuss the options available and then report back to the full board with a recommendation.
No action was taken on this issue.
Elevator service contracts
Kruger told the board that due to an adjustment with the current courthouse elevator service contract, the county will save $538.71 per year. The agreement with ThyssenKrupp Elevator Service, of the Twin Cities, will cost the county $195 a month.
Zmyewski questioned what the county received for that monthly fee. Kruger responded that the elevator is inspected and lubricated each month. She added that once this contract expires, she suggests that the county solicit bids for a service contract for the courthouse elevator and the two new ones in the Justice Center.
The two in the Justice Center are still under warranty and a separate service contract. Kruger felt the county could realize a savings if the three elevators were all under one contract.
A motion by Schuldt and seconded by Zmyewski to approve the service agreement was unanimously approved.
Highway Department truck
Highway Department Engineer Brian Pogodzinski brought a proposal to purchase a 2012 GMC Sierra crew cab 4×4 pickup for his department. The new pickup would be replacing a 2000 Ford F-150 that has just under 100,000 miles on it. Pogodzinski said that while that didn’t sound like a lot of miles, the truck was used by the engineering department and idled a lot on job sites and carried a lot of equipment.
“It has seen it’s better days, it is a budgeted item and is part of the five-year replacement plan,” Pogodzinski added.
The cost of the truck was $26,527 plus tax and would be purchased through a state bid.
Schuldt ask if any local truck dealers were contacted about submitting a bid. Pogodzinski said he understood in the past local dealers were asked but declined to participate.
Caledonia resident Chuck Schulte, who was at the meeting, said he spoke with Chuck Ellingson of Ellingson Motors in Caledonia about this issue. According to Schulte, Ellingson said he could purchase the truck through a state bid from a Twin Cities dealer for the county.
“If there is any way the county can purchase things like this from local people who pay the taxes in this county, I feel every effort should be made to do so,” Schulte said.
Miller agreed with Schulte that the county should look into this. Pogodzinski will be contacting the Caledonia dealership.
Frac sand public hearing
A public hearing dealing with silica frac sand mining will be held Monday, March 19 beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Fine Arts Center at the La Crescent-Hokah High School in La Crescent. This will be an informational meeting with several experts speaking about the geology and aquifers of Houston County.
Yucatan Township resident John Griggs asked the county board if a committee would be created to help develop a plan for the possible new industry in the county.
Miller said that Environmental Services Officer Rick Frank would be developing a committee from throughout the county. Interested persons are asked to contact Frank.
You can contact Charlie Warner at email@example.com