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Crow Wing County: Relief dollars to fund new courtroom, jail body scanner

The County Board approved the use of $1,930,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds toward a number of capital improvement projects already planned for this year during its Tuesday, Jan. 25, meeting.

The sunset reflects on a historic building
The Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch file photo
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BRAINERD — Construction of a new courtroom and a body scanner in the county jail are among the purchases Crow Wing County plans to make with federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

The County Board approved the use of $1,930,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funds toward a number of capital improvement projects already planned for this year during its Tuesday, Jan. 25, meeting.

County Administrator Tim Houle said after reviewing the list of projects, senior managers believe those selected for ARPA funds meet the criteria for eligibility outlined in the law. Crow Wing County was awarded $12.6 million from the federal relief package, half of which it’s received and is beginning to distribute.

“What we’re essentially asking you to do is change the funding source from levy dollars to ARPA funds for those projects,” Houle told commissioners.

Capital projects refer to projects maintaining or improving physical assets of the county, ranging from computers to vehicles to buildings. These projects are typically funded by a combination of county program aid dollars from the state along with revenue collected through property taxes.

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CWCJudicalCenterSnow.JPG
The Crow Wing County Judicial Center is off Laurel Street in Brainerd.
Brainerd Dispatch file photo

The project garnering the majority of the funding is the buildout of a courtroom in the Crow Wing County Judicial Center in Brainerd. The room already exists within the judicial center but was left unfinished when the building was erected in the early 2000s. At the time, officials expected the courtroom would one day be completed as dictated by need. A total of $410,420 is slated for 2022 with an additional $654,580 to be spent before the deadline of Dec. 31, 2024.

Adding a courtroom is believed to be a qualifying expense under the “prevention in congregate settings” category within the rules of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds — the portion of ARPA that delivered $350 billion to state and local governments.

“This court room will allow for adaptability during any outbreak or pandemic by providing a court room that is able to be adapted to accommodate social distancing and other health considerations in an effort to minimize or eliminate potential exposure to the Jail system or the public at large,” a memo outlining the projects stated.

Two other approved expenses also relate to the Crow Wing County Jail: a jail booking body scanner and ductwork cleaning in the facility.

Staff noted a body scanner — at a cost of $200,000 — appears to qualify as both a prevention measure in a congregate setting as well as under the “substance use services” category. The scanner will assist in screening inmates for COVID-19 by taking body temperature, according to officials, as well as preventing contraband from entering the jail. In allowing relief funds to be spent for substance use services, the U.S. Treasury stated it “recognizes that the pandemic has broadly impacted Americans’ behavioral health and recipients can provide these services to the general public to respond.”

Crow Wing County Jail
The Crow Wing County Jail is located at 313 Laurel St., Brainerd.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch file photo

“As the pandemic and our response to the pandemic has extended, there have been significant increases to the substance use challenge within the County, driving a need for the Body Scanner system,” the county memo stated.

Ductwork cleaning in the jail for $60,000 also relates to the prevention of COVID-19 spread, officials said, because “said activity can have positive impacts on the air handling system within the Jail, helping to better mitigate risk of virus spread throughout the facility as systems operate efficiently and at peak performance when necessary.”

The other two expenditures are software programs — a document management system and budgeting software. The document management system will be used by community services, the county attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office and provides central document storage, management and analysis. The $475,000 system appears to qualify under a number of categories: COVID-19 contact tracing, mental health services, substance use services and other public health services.

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Budgeting software at a cost of $130,000 will be used to manage the ARPA funding itself, which officials said qualifies under the “evaluation and data analysis” category.

“With the analysis and reporting generated by the system, County Executives and Elected Officials will be better positioned to manage funds while County Finance staff will be better positioned to track and report on expenditure of the … funds.”

In other business, the County Board:

Heard from people questioning the 2020 election processes and outcome in Crow Wing County. The board at its Jan. 4 meeting passed a resolution requesting Secretary of State Steve Simon conduct a forensic audit of the 2020 “election materials and data” in response to the group’s petition.

Accepted a petition for pavement on Shellisa Lane, a gravel township road in the First Assessment District and set a public hearing date as Feb. 22. Eight of 10 parcel owners identified as benefiting parties signed the petition. Plans already call for the construction of a gravel cul-de-sac at the end of the road this year, paid for by township levy dollars. If the board ultimately approves the request, the property owners will split the cost of paving the road and cul-de-sac.

Set a Feb. 22 public hearing to allow for comment on a request to vacate a portion of Ash Avenue in the First Assessment District.

Authorized an agreement with the Brainerd Jaycees to provide law enforcement services during the Ice Fishing Extravaganza. The rate will be $70 per hour per deputy, with the total not to exceed $6,600.

Approved a program fee for the Domestic Violence Program, a new program created in response to losing a community provider. The cost is $15 per group session for the 27-week program, with costs not to exceed $405. According to the request for board action from Krista Jones, corrections manager: “The need for this program is essential as domestic violence cases have increased and programming is required to be in compliance with (state statute).”

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Authorized the county administrator to set a public hearing date at least six weeks from the date of the meeting to allow for comment on the county’s 2022 harvest plan. The plan outlines the forest stands the county is considering for timber sale and harvest within county-managed forestlands.

Agreed to share half the cost of a study of the County Highway 48 corridor in Baxter. The city of Baxter is proposing to extend Cypress Drive to the south to connect with County Highway 48. The study will determine the appropriate intersection control along with determine access spacing for future development. The estimated cost of the study is $34,000.

Authorized the county engineer to extend offers to acquire necessary right of way as part of a project to replace the existing culvert at Dean Brook on Lower Dean Lake Road in the Second Assessment District.

Approved a final payment to Anderson Brothers Construction Co. for $139,716.45 for full-depth reclamation and surfacing of Sunrise Point Road in Platte Lake Township. The final amount was 9.5% below the original projection and is funded by state park road funds approved by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Approved a resolution agreeing to accept $398,132 in state bridge bonds for use toward the reconstruction of the County Highway 45 bridge over the Nokassippi River.

Authorized the county sheriff to enter a grant contract with the DNR for reimbursement of costs related to labor and equipment in the enforcement of off-highway vehicle laws from July 1 through June 30, 2023. The county will be reimbursed up to $12,173 each year. A similar agreement was also approved for snowmobile enforcement activities for the same time period, with reimbursements at $12,562 each year.

Extended for two years the contract with Steversen Transport LLC for medical examiner transport service at a rate of $800 per transport. The service transports bodies to Ramsey County for autopsy.

Supported a gambling premises permit application of Garrison Fire & Rescue for the Lonesome Pine Restaurant & Bar in Bay Lake Township.

Accepted a $100 donation from Granite Electronics to the Crow Wing County Mounted Patrol.

Appointed Shawn Jarvela to replace Diane Cash as the city of Crosby representative on the Serpent Lake Sanitary Sewer District Board of Directors for a term expiring Dec. 31.

Appointed 911 Operations Lt. Jessica Turner to the Northeast Minnesota Regional Advisory Committee for Interoperable Public Safety Communications as the delegate for Crow Wing County and Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Heide as the alternate.

Approved the promotions of the following community services employees: Ashley Herbst to financial assistance specialist, Stacy Koop to social services supervisor, Margaret Wiskow to social services supervisor, Kaye Wilson to community corrections supervisor, Kayla Johnson to social worker, Anna Backberg to social worker, Kelly Berens to child support officer and Krista Zierden to social worker. Most of these promotions were due to reclassifications of their positions, while the two social worker positions were added in the 2022 budget.

Approved the hiring of Joshua Hamilton, technical support technician, administrative services, and Anna Weiland, program specialist, community services.

Accepted the departures of the following employees: Gail Oseland, financial worker, community services; Bethany Soderlund, environmental services specialist, land services; and Barbara Hoff, social worker, community services. Replacement staffing for these positions was also approved.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her atchelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.comor218-855-5874and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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