The Rice County Board of Commissioners today voted unanimously to table a decision concerning replacement of the Jail and Law Enforcement Center in Faribault.

District 2 Commissioner Galen Malecha led the effort to table the decision to the May 11, 2021 board meeting.  Malecha said he wanted more information before spending potentially 50 million dollars if the board decides to go with a new jail and lec.

Malecha says there needs to be a known finance plan, "How many people build a house without having a budget ?  How many people buy front end loaders or tractors or build commercial buildings or buy cars ?  How do people do this without knowing ?  You know we're asking the taxpayers to pay for something without even knowing how we're going to finance it.  What are the (taxes) on a $100,000 house which probably doesn't event exist?  What is it on a $350,000 house?  What is (adding) 2.2 million dollars each year going to do to our levy on a yearly basis?"

He asked where the green space is located if the decision is made to build and County Administrator Sara Folsted did not specify because the County might have to negotiate for the property.

Commissioners received a proposal from the Steele County Board of Commissioners to set up a Regional Jail Authority Board combining resources for a joint jail using their facility in Owatonna.

District 1 Commissioner Jim Purfeerst stated the other members of the board had been dealing with the issue much longer, but he sees need for a new jail but not a new law enforcement center.  "If we did remodel down there and went to a 90 day facility then could we do it in the current, what we have if we get rid of the long term inmates or do we need to..."  Sheriff Troy Dunn responded, "I'm sure you could. I mean we've had some figures put out there to pretty much gut it and then we would have to change the layout of how it is.  I mean how those cells were built 50 years ago don't meet today's needs.  I don't know where the load bearing walls are and what could be gutted so you could make it the pod style that all the new facilities are built today."

District 3 Commissioner Dave Miller appreciated Steele County making a proposal as requested by Rice County but said he wants "control."   "We don't have any issues with another county.  Not that we would have issues with Steele County but we would have control over it if we build it ourself.  That's very important to me.  I understand the cost to taxpayers.  It costed taxpayers in 1874 (when the first jail was built), 1911 (the next jail) and 1970 (the current facility).There's always a cost.  Progress isn't cheap.  Somebody has to pay for it."

Discussion was then made about tabling the decision.  District 4 Commissioner Steve Underdahl of Faribault said it wouldn't sway him one way or the other, "In my mind two weeks is not going to put me in any better position than if we made the decision here today."

He said going with Steele County would add a year to a year and a half to the process.

Steele County District 4 Commisisoner Jim Abbe said combining resources makes sense for Steele and Rice County taxpayers, " That's ultimately who we are beholden to right ?  These are real dollars.  By freeing up these dollars and partnering with Steele County that leaves you money to make other decisions for your county.  Infrastructure, capital projects, affordable housing.  The list goes on.  It just frees up dollars.  Not only does it do that but it's probably going to be protective of your bond rating.  You know the more debt you take on the harder it is to borrow money."

Sheriff Dunn expressed frustration over what he called "11th hour questions."  He stated, "I've been very open to you in saying that we're here and I just feel like, you know, you don't ask the questions and now here you are and you got ten questions so I just..."

Malecha interjected, "Questions come up when you talk about it.  It triggers a question.  I can't say two months ago I might have had 10 questions because we talked about this and we continue to talk about this.  It's not to kick the can down the road.  It's not to stop the process or short the process.  That's not what I'm talking about.  But again we five have to answer to the taxpayers a little bit differently than the sheriff does."

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