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County board holds jail capacity at 60; won’t go to 80

Loggers, in the background, work on a spot east of Big Sand Lake Wednesday. The area is the foreground was mistakenly cleared, which angered a dozen lake residents, who came to the board meeting to complain. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

By Sarah Smith

The Hubbard County jail will remain at 60 prisoners, the county board determined Tuesday.

But it did authorize Sheriff Cory Aukes to sign a contract with the Department of Corrections to furnish the county a guaranteed 20 inmates.

Aukes wanted to expand the capacity to 80 inmates by entering the DOC deal and contract with Becker County to provide another 10-20 inmates.

The board put the kibosh on that. It would have entailed hiring another four full-time jailers. Talks about expanding the jail capacity have been ongoing since the New Year.

Aukes said he was mildly disappointed, but could live with the decision.

“There are a lot of confusing numbers out there,” he acknowledged. “I didn’t present the board with a fancy spreadsheet, fancy numbers.”

Aukes doesn’t want to have to slight neighboring counties like Becker or Cass to house the DOC inmates.

“We’ve maintained a great relationship with our neighboring counties. They’ve provided us with plenty of revenue.”

The facility is licensed to take 116 inmates and the board has pressured the jail to fill the facility up.

“We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where Hubbard County taxpayers subsidize the jail,” said Commissioner Cal Johannsen.

The Department of Corrections will provide the county with minimum security inmates, prisoners who are ready to be discharged or who have had no disciplinary actions in the past six months, Aukes said.

But commission chair Kathy Grell said the contract doesn’t specify what type of inmates the county could get and she worried about having disciplinary issues.

“They can send us anybody,” she said.

Commissioner Matt Dotta did some quick math on his computer, figuring revenues for 80 inmates at $401,000 and expenses, with the two new jailers, at $385,000.

“To me that’s a lot of risk for $16,000,” he said.

The jail has been averaging 38-48 inmates daily, said administrator Joe Henry.

Commissioners seemed more apt to weather a smaller increase than jumping to 80 inmates. The risk wasn’t worth the expected profits, some said.

But Johannsen reminded the board that “we’ve been pushing Cory and the two previous sheriffs to fill the jail, fill the jail, fill the jail. We either have to try it or nix it.”

If the jail had to lay off the four new jailers, “that’s $220,000 at risk,” Grell said. The county might be liable to pay unemployment benefits for up to a year if the larger population didn’t work out.

“I want to play well with our neighbors but we’re doubling down on 80” inmates, Dotta said. “We’re losing money. I underestimated every expense,” he said of the figures he arrived at during the meeting. “Sixty makes more sense than 80.”

In other business, the board:

n Heard from a group of angry Big Sand Lake property owners about the recent cutting of a corner of trees down by the lake in what was likely a miscommunication between the Land Department and loggers.

Instead of leaving a corner off Granite Drive, where red paint marked the areas to be cuts, loggers mistakenly cut a large corner near the lake.

“That’s the kind of stuff that needs to be tightened up,” Grell said, in apologizing to the landowners.

Former Land Commissioner Bob Hoffman was at the scene Wednesday. He said he came to look at the clearing after he got a call from an angry landowner.

n Approved hiring a deputy jail administrator and a deputy assessor to fill vacancies or shortages.

Sheriff Cory Aukes is also hiring at least one more deputy, part-time, for now, but the board gave him permission to increase the part-time roster from six to eight.

n Heard from a frustrated 11th Crow Wing Lake resident who objected to his neighbor parking a travel trailer on his property, blocking Jeff Robbins’ view of the lake.

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf said the trailer was legally parked and there were no shoreland regulations mandating that property owners be “good neighbors.”

Robbins maintained if the trailer is a temporary structure, it must be moved within 180 days of placement.

But it seems the landowner is using it semi-permanently as a guest cabin.

Robbins presented several photos of his blocked view.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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