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County to seek alternatives to jail

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens County will formally seek alternatives to its planned building project that do not include construction of a jail.

The county Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday requesting that its project consultants, Klein McCarthy Architects and project manager Contegrity Group, prepare plans and cost estimates for two alternatives to the current $15 million plan, which includes construction of a jail and law enforcement center and renovation of the courthouse.

The options requested in the resolution call for costs and plans for a project that includes the courthouse renovation and construction of a new law enforcement center but excludes the jail, and estimates for a project that includes renovations of the courthouse and existing law enforcement but does not include building a jail or new LEC.

The board's resolution also called on KMA and Contegrity to complete final plans for the current project but that the plans should be held and no bids be advertised until the board instructs them to do so.

The county was planning to advertise for bids in mid-April and open bids in mid-May. Opponents to the plan, led by the Stevens County Taxpayers Committee, on several occasions asked the board to postpone the bidding process while an advisory panel continues a 90-day review of the $15 million plan.

The panel, the Stevens County Citizens/County Board Facilities Project Advisory Committee, has been meeting weekly to review the county's process for choosing to move ahead on the $15 million project. The panel was formed after the board voted to delay bond sales for the jail portion of the project and give the panel 90 days to review it. The panel consists of the five county commissioners, three members of the taxpayers committee and three citizens chosen by the commissioners.

On Tuesday, Gordy Lea of the taxpayers committee presented options and cost estimates for the building project and said that his calculations don't match those taken from the county's master plan.

The board, through County Coordinator Jim Thoreen and County Attorney Charles Glasrud, is expected to set up a meeting between taxpayers committee members and KMA and Contegrity to flesh out the numbers and reach conclusions on accurate square footage costs and other discrepancies Lea said he found in the masterplan.

Representatives from KMA and Contegrity are scheduled to meet with the advisory panel at its next weekly meeting on Monday, April 13.

In other board business:

• The county approved a resolution to enter into a lease agreement for computing services that will run tax software used by the county's assessor, auditor/treasurer, social services, highway and human resources departments.

The county currently owns its AS400 system, but it is scheduled to be replaced. Scott Busche, the county's Information Technology Director, said the county is too small and uses only about 5 percent to 10 percent of the AS400 system, making it impractical to purchase its own replacement system.

Buying a system and other related services over a four-year contract would total about $24,500 per year.

Contracting with Computer Professionals Unlimited would cost the county $10,500 for the first year and almost $9,400 for the second year. Busche said the county could expect a 4 percent per-year increase in the lease rate.

Leasing also gives the county backup in the event problems arise and Busche is not around to take care of them. It also allows more flexibility in that all users wouldn't be required to sign off the system when repairs or upgrades must be made, he said.

Busche also said the county likely would be able to sell its existing system since businesses need the older servers for parts.

• The board approved Busche's recommendation that the county join the 10-county, District 4 association of the Minnesota Counties Geographic Information Systems Association.

The board also is expected to assign a commissioner to represent it in the MCGISA later this spring. Busche would be the county's representative at general MCGISA meetings.

GIS is used to map the county for many uses, including mapping of watersheds, roads, rivers, section corners and a variety of other uses. GIS also is a valuable tool to provide accurate directions for law enforcement dispatchers and emergency personnel.

The dues for MCGISA membership are $100 per year, and the county has about $1,800 in a fund to use for training and software purchases.

Busche said the membership potentially could save the county money since members have thus far shown a great capacity to share information and software. Some software programs can cost $8,000, "and if (members) are willing to share, that's great," Busche said, noting that Ottertail County is a prime example of that cooperation.

"Ottertail County is so proud of what (GIS system) they have and they're so willing to share," Busche said.

• Veterans Services Officer Hugh Reimers informed the board that the VSO will purchase a newer van to transport veterans to medical appointments.

Reimers recently received a $15,000 grant for a vehicle purchase, and he said the VSO has enough money in its vet van fund to cover the remaining costs.

Reimers is currently pricing 2008 vans that cost between $18,000 and $21,000 and have fewer than 15,000 miles on them.

A new van would likely cost about $31,000, he said.

Reimers estimated that the vans are driven between 31,000 and 35,000 miles per year. A 2003 van now in use has more than 170,000 miles on it, and a 2006 van has more than 92,000 miles, he said.