Wright County Board approves jail medical contract amendment

There are times when additional costs aren’t viewed as a bad thing. At the Aug. 8 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, Captain Pat O’Malley of the sheriff’s department came to the board with a request for an additional $94,000 in funding for medical costs at the county jail.

However, the cost is due to the recent opening of a pod in the jail so the county can board more prisoners, which is more than paying for the additional cost.

“As you know, we opened another unit in the jail,” O’Malley said. “Along with that comes a whole lot of other inmates and the need for some medical services. Speaking with our provider, we need an additional 24 hours of nursing service, two hours of doctor service and six hours of mental health service.”

The county took in $150,000 in June for boarding prisoners from outside the county and $176,000 in July. The county averages between 100-120 boarders a day, including approximately 50 state parole violators, 50 prisoners from Sherburne County and 10 from Stearns County on average.

During last year’s budget process, the 2017 budget projected $700,000 in revenue from the boarding of prisoners and the current number is at $795,000 and, thanks the new pod opening, another $600,000 in revenue in expected to be brought in by the end of the year. Sheriff Joe Hagerty said that, for the 2018 budget, a realistic revenue projection could be $2 million with the potential for more if the county opens its remaining unused jail pod.

“This cost will be completely covered by our boarding contracts,” O’Malley said. “There is not net loss of any kind to the county. As a matter of fact, this year to date, we’ve exceeded our projected revenues by almost $100,000 and we still four-and-a-half months left in the year. There is no cost to the county – we pay the bill, but we will recoup that money in our boarding.”

O’Malley said that the contract can be reverted back to its original terms if the county takes in fewer prisoners that it currently is, but that doesn’t seem likely given the need for jail space throughout the state and Wright County’s ability to house more prisoners that its local needs require. The board unanimously approved the amendment to the current jail contract, which runs through the end of 2020.

In other items on the Aug. 8 agenda, the board:

• Affirmed a negative declaration of the planning commission and voted to deny a request from the Mojo Wojo Campground in Silver Creek Township to rezone property from general agricultural to residential/recreational shoreland. The planning commission voted 4-2 to deny the request and the Silver Creek Township Board also gave it a negative declaration.

• Authorized signatures on an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Revenue dealing with the collection of a half-cent transportation based sales tax. Earlier this summer, the board approved placing a the half-cent tax throughout the county to raise funds to complete road and bridge projects due to a funding shortfall from the state and federal government. The tax will begin being collected Oct. 1.

• Rescheduled an owners committee meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 14 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15. The committee is slated to discuss items dealing with the construction of the new courts facility, including review of the site, public design space and cost estimates.

• Reviewed the listing of capital improvement projects within county departments. Many of the projects are technological in nature as the county attempts to catch up with the growing list of technology improvements needed in multiple departments.

• Laid over rescheduling the standard Wednesday committee meeting date scheduled Aug. 23. The plan is to move those committee meetings to Aug. 30, but the commissioners wanted to check with those expected to be part of those meetings to determine if the switch of dates will work with their schedules.

• Had Vice Chairman Mark Daleiden oversee the meeting. Commissioner Charlie Borrell, who is the board chairman for 2017, was not in attendance due to illness.

John Holler is a freelance reporter who covers the Wright County Board of Commissioners for the Monticello Times