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Commissioners plead justice center case

Wadena County commissioners met with legislators to request funding for a $16 million justice center.

It was interesting to say the least, said Commissioner Mary Harrison.

Harrison, county board Chairman Lane Waldahl and Commissioner Orville Meyer met March 8 with legislators on the public safety and finance committee in St. Paul.

A proposed justice center including jail, law enforcement and courts is estimated to cost about $16 million, while Wadena Countys debt limit is about $12.5 million. That information spurred commissioners to look into state funding.

Commissioners consulted with representatives from the Association of Minnesota Counties about the issues and what to say to legislators. They had 15 minutes to testify to the capital investment committee and spent half the time talking and half the time answering questions, Harrison said.

The big thing is were trying not leaving any stones unturned, Harrison said.

Waldahl said representatives were asking how they could support Wadena County when their own counties were building jails, which were funded by the counties themselves.

They need to look at the area and the tax base, Waldahl said.

The commissioners are hopeful but think that the county probably wont get full funding of a proposed $16 million justice center.

Meyer said the legislators accepted Wadena Countys proposal and will lay it aside until the cost of the project decreases.

I got the feeling of me too from some of the legislators who also serve small counties, Meyer said.

They wondered why money should go to just Wadena County when other counties need jail facilities as well, he said.

There were a lot of people requesting bonding money from the state so we can cross our fingers, Meyer said.

The county has been discussing remodeling options because of space constraints in the current courthouse especially within the court administration and the sheriffs departments.

The county has had KKE Architects develop options for a justice center and provide cost comparison between adding on to the existing courthouse and building at a new site. The cost was estimated to be about the same but if the downtown facility were remodeled, there would be no room for future expansion, according to KKE Architects.

Also, the county board has had discussions with the city of Wadena about sharing law enforcement space. The police department needs about $500,000 in improvements.

The sheriffs and city police departments would remain separate entities even if they share space.

Commissioners have looked into other options for bonding.

In August, the county had a public hearing to discuss the justice center and the issuance of $4.25 million in bonds to help pay for a proposed justice center. The county didnt take action on the issuance of bonds.