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County board approves sale of jail bonds

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted to sell bonds that could be used to finance jail-related expenses in the county's $15 million building and renovation project.

The vote to move ahead with the sale comes a week after the commissioners voted to advertise for bids on the project.

The board earlier this year voted to postpone the $9.5 million bond sale and the bidding process while a citizens and county board advisory committee spent 10 weeks researching the project.

As has happened with almost all votes on the project, commissioners Don Munsterman, Larry Sayre and Paul Watzke approved of moving ahead with the bond sale while commissioners Herb Kloos and Ron Staples voted against the measure.

Staples said Tuesday that the county should not take action on a bond sale until after the county receives bids for the project, which are expected to be ready by the commissioners' June 16 meeting.

But Munsterman, Sayre and Watzke based their decision on the advice of Carolyn Drude, of Ehlers and Associations, which is the county's financial adviser.

Drude noted that Douglas County, which also is building a jail, advertised for bids and bonds at about the same time and approved them at the same time in an effort to maximize construction and bond savings. Douglas County's construction bid came in almost $3 million under the $15.76 million estimate. Stevens County also has been told by its architects, project manager and financial advisers that interest rates on the bonds could be in the 4 percent range.

General obligation jail bonds can be used only for jail-related construction costs. Although the board is approving a bond sale, it can adjust the final dollar amount once it receives the bids. The board also said it could reject the bids and cancel the bond sale if bids come in too high.

In other county business:

• The Minnesota Legislature adjourned its session Monday night, but counties still don't have solid details on what budget reductions to eliminate the state's shortfall will mean.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty line-item vetoed a number of provisions in the budget proposal lawmakers sent him, and he also is expected to use his power of "unallotment," which allows the state to reclaim Local Government Aid and County Program Aid.

Last year, Stevens County had about $90,000 of aid "unalloted" by Pawlenty.

The county this year is expecting to receive a total of $1.04 million in CPA. County Coordinator Jim Thoreen said neither the Rural Minnesota Counties Caucus nor the Association of Minnesota Counties has firm figures on how unallotment might affect their members. He is confident, however, that the county won't emerge unscathed in fiscal year 2010.

"We will lose County Program Aid, we just don't know how much and we don't know when," Thoreen said.