New Vote Needed on Jail Project - - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

New Vote Needed on Jail Project

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Ward county voters will be asked to allow the county to spend more on the proposed jail expansion and courthouse renovation.

That was the decision of the county board today based on news that the original proposal was undersized and the price estimate was, to quote State's Attorney Roza Larson, grossly underestimated.

The jail expansion and courthouse renovation were part of the 2012 bond vote where county voters approved a half-cent sales tax to pay for up to 39-and-a-half million dollars in construction work.

The centerpiece of the bond vote was a new county office building that is now under construction.

But the 10-million dollar jail expansion has turned out to be a problem because, as County Commissioner Alan Walter puts it, current conditions show it was not big enough.

And he worries the sheriff will quickly find the expansion was not sufficient.

(Alan Walter, Ward County Commissioner) "We're going to turn the keys over to him and he'll say I don't have enough room. And that doesn't include the fact there's probably going to be a change in the state law to impact us more. And that's something we didn't know at the time. Plus these estimates are three years old, four years old?"

Commissioners stress that the half-cent sales tax will collect more than enough to pay for the larger jail renovation project.

Since the half-cent sales tax began, more than 8-million dollars has been collected for the project. At that pace, more than 60-million dollars would be brought in during the ten-year period the tax was approved to be in force.

The commissioners say the issue is not raising more money, but getting permission for more debt than the 39-million approved by voters two years ago.

(Jerome Gruenberg, Ward County Commissioner) "It would not be an increase in the tax, it would not be an increase in the time. It would just mean that we know we talked about maybe being able to pay it off a little bit early well, maybe now we can't."

(John Fjeldahl, Ward County Commissioner) "We gotta get voter approval to do something like that, otherwise we're faced with paring down what we're doing. That's our choices."

The exact price of a larger jail expansion is unknown right now but it's expected to be well over 15 million dollars.

If estimates can be nailed down, and paperwork finished up in time, the question of allowing more debt for a larger jail renovation and addition project - and the remodeling of the existing courthouse - will appear on the November general election ballot.

If the timing doesn't work out, a special election is likely to be held in January.


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