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Cass capital improvement plan updated

WALKER — Cass County will conduct a public hearing on a proposal to update the county’s five year capital improvement plan during the May 6 regular board meeting.

Administrator Robert Yochum warned the commissioners Tuesday they need to remember the fact the county now is spending down some of the money set aside for capital improvements when the county was growing in value and, thus, tax receipts.

“This is what we set money aside for,” he said of recent leaner years, but warned that until the county’s population and construction increases, the expenditures won’t be replenished.

The commissioners have had a policy in recent years against incurring debt and against raising the annual levy dollars.

Tuesday, they discussed reasons they likely will continue to maintain existing county buildings rather than to begin any new construction at the former Ah-Gwah-Ching property.

The trigger to begin moving any county operations from downtown Walker to Ah-Gwah-Ching would be the need for a new jail, the commissioners agreed.

Today, that trigger seems unlikely for at least 10 years.

It is not just the cost to build a building. The county does have some money set aside toward beginning to build and has no debt.

Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe said the real cost would be to operate a larger jail building and to staff it.

Currently, it costs Cass about $200 per day per inmate to operate its existing jail in Walker. The county recently extended its contract with Crow Wing County to 2027 and pays $48.65 per day per inmate boarding fee. Cass has been paying Hubbard County $42 per day boarding fee without a contract.

This averages Cass’s inmate costs per day at under $100, Wolfe said.

“Assuming no new revenue, we would have to stop doing a considerable amount of what we do now to cover new jail operations,” Yochum said. “I think we’re on the right track now,” he said of maintaining existing buildings rather than building new ones.

At current jail cost rates, it does not make sense for Cass to build a larger jail to house all Cass inmates when it is so much cheaper to board them in another county, the commissioners agreed.

Yochum also indicated that if law enforcement personnel, the county attorney or courts moved to a new building at Ah-Gwah-Ching, none of the other departments housed in the downtown courthouse need the space that would be vacated.

The county laid off personnel and downsized operations during the recession, meaning other departments are not seeking expansion space as they were 10 years ago, he said.

Yochum noted service the county has extended from Walker to the land department building at Backus has been well received. He predicted any additional office space the county might need would be in Backus before it occurred in Walker.

The capital improvement plan covers all major county building and equipment proposals as well as highway construction and recreational trails planned.