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Becker County backs away from jail share with Clay County

 Some sticker shock may have spooked Becker County officials from possibly sharing a jail with Clay County in the near future.

Officials from both counties met last week to discuss the possibility of building and sharing a new jail. Both counties’ jails are bursting at the seams.

While Clay County commissioners met Tuesday and said they were OK with continuing to study a shared jail, as long as it was in Moorhead, Becker commissioners had a change of heart on Tuesday prompted by sticker shock, said Becker County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

The shared jail, which would be constructed nearer to 2020, could cost upward of $70 million.

“If they refine the number and the cost comes down a bit, we might be able to participate,” Ingstad said. “But at a $70 million structure, that’s a little rich for us.”

Clay commissioners said they had two stipulations for sharing a jail with Becker: It had to be located in Moorhead and Becker had to have some ownership in the jail, not just lease beds.

Becker County’s jail has 45 secure beds and 48 minimum security beds. It sends about 20 inmates to other jails because it has no room, said Clay County Administrator Brian Berg.

Clay’s jail has 60 secure beds and 30 minimum security beds. Clay, too, sends about 20 inmates to other jails, Berg said.

Clay budgeted about $481,000 to transport inmates to other available beds in 2014, a dollar amount which is getting to be too large, Berg said.

He said the county is still working on financing the new jail. If a feasible funding plan can be figured out, he’d like to see construction start sometime between 2018 and 2020.

A jail just for Clay County could cost $30 million to $35 million, he said. Doubling the size to include Becker inmates is where the ballpark $70 million came from, he said.

“I know that’s a scary figure, but that's realistic,” he said.

Berg and Clay commissioners said they hope that sharing a jail with Becker could bring some operational efficiencies and savings. Regardless of Becker’s decision, Berg said county staff will continue to study financing for a new jail.

“We have not started design or exact site location,” he said. “We’re still on the financing side, and we’re going to continue with that.”

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