The kibosh put on Becker County-Hubbard jail plans
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.”