Tensions were high inside the county board room Tuesday, as Steele County commissioners continued to tackle what they see as an ongoing issue with the high costs and low revenue stream at the county jail.
During the work session meeting prior to the regularly scheduled meeting, the Board of Commissioners discussed a strong desire to “put this to bed” in reference to how the operations at the Steele County Detention Center should continue.
Commissioner Greg Krueger, who was most vocal about wanting the discussion to come to a conclusion, originally made a motion during the meeting to allow the jail to continue running “as is” with the caveat that the board take an annual in-depth look at the operational budget line items and re-evaluate if they feel inefficiencies are not being resolved. Though the motion was seconded by Commissioner Rick Gnemi, both commissioners ultimately withdrew their motion and second to allow for one more attempt to gather additional data.
The discussion was placed on the work session agenda by the request of Commissioner John Glynn, who is the current board chair. Glynn said he felt they had not explored “all possible options” on ways to up the revenue. In 2021, the detention center had roughly $3.9 million more expenses than revenue.
“I just want us to explore all our options, and I feel like we haven’t done that yet,” Glynn said, noting that he would like to see numbers on costs for a potential partnership with Dodge County.
Though County Administrator Scott Golberg warned the commissioners that any numbers on “potential” solutions would only be a guess, the commissioners ultimately agreed to table the discussion until such numbers could be brought to the table.
While Krueger was focused on public safety and allowing the detention center staff to no longer have to worry about whether or not their jobs were in jeopardy and Glynn was focused on the costs, Commissioner Jim Abbe said he could see both sides of the coin, but encouraged the group to still take one final look at the possible options still out there.
“It was insinuated that we don’t care about public safety — that is not at all the case, and nobody here has ever said otherwise, but I take a bit of offense to that,” Abbe said. “The dollars do factor in to what we decide here, as does public safety; we have to weight it all in, and I think that is all [Glynn] is asking for. If that means regurgitating information that we had before, like the book and transport option, then let’s take a look at it.
“We don’t have to decide tonight,” Abbe continued. “No one is closing the facility tomorrow. Let’s take a look at the numbers.”
While Krueger did withdraw his motion, he asked that the board “make a firm decision,” so the conversation is no longer dragged out.
Key players in the local criminal justice system attended the work session to express their support for the county jail. Both Judge Joseph Bueltel and Owatonna Police Chief Keith Hiller described the operations at the detention center as smooth, and said the facility is an integral part of the overall criminal justice system. They two men also voiced concern to the commissioners that transporting inmates to another county may be detrimental to the process currently working well in Steele County.
The discussion took place despite action taken last fall to move ahead with the operation as a class III facility. The board awarded a contract last month in the amount of $609,850 to construct a wall in the center pod to allow the facility to remain operating as a two-pod jail, but with four classifications instead of three.
The classifications will include maximum, medium and minimum security male inmates and one general classification for female inmates.
The current Steele County Detention Center opened in October 2003. It sits on 18.63 acres, is a total structure of 58,575 square feet, and has a rated capacity of 154 beds.