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County looks to build public safety center

The Lincoln County Commission passed a $50 million bond issue for a public safety center 3-2 at a special meeting Feb. 18.

Commissioners Mike Poppens, Jim Schmidt and Tiffani Landeen all voted in favor of the motion to pass a bond not exceeding $50 million for a Lincoln County public safety center. David Gillespie and Joel Arends voted against the motion.

During the meeting, Arends noted that he had received some information from a constituent about the 400-bed public safety center Sioux City wants to build for $49.9 million. While Arends said that he did not know if their project and Lincoln County’s project is apples to apples; he thought it would be prudent to look at why their project appears to be getting more out of their nearly $50 million than what Lincoln County has looked at so far.

Arends wanted more public input on this topic before moving ahead, but also acknowledged that they have not seen an outpouring of public comment to date on the topic.

“What I want to see is public meetings to be part of the process,” Arends said.

Chairman Poppens said they have been discussing a public safety center for years, but now they are housing more prisoners than ever before at nine locations in three states. While Arends said if the bond issue was referred to an election, he would rather see it on the November ballot with hopes of a larger voter turnout than other times of the year.

Poppens was not in favor of delaying until the November election because it will take a year to design the facility. A November referendum would delay further to break ground. Poppens said now is the time to move forward with getting a public safety center constructed because of the increase in prisoners.

“Our unfortunate situation of the negative impact of growth has become such a part of our county that we are housing 75-plus prisoners. Not that many years ago we were at 20 prisoners. The size of the need has grown,” Poppens said. “Back in the early ‘80s when we maybe had two prisoners it made no sense to do a jail. There are a lot of things that have finally come into play that outweigh or make the impact the right time to take on the challenge.”

Sheriff Steve Swenson said while they house prisoners in three states, they are at the start of a 45-bed contract with Minnehaha County. The county currently pays Minnehaha County $97.34 per day per inmate, which means they pay $4,380.30 per day. For the course of this year, Lincoln County is paying Minnehaha County $1,598,809.50.

He noted that cost does not include paying personnel to transfer inmates. His staff includes 32 officers that includes part-time transport staff. They have 22 full-time officers.

“In 2017, we spent $803,178 for housing inmates. This year it’s going to be roughly $2 million. It’s roughly doubled in two years,” Swenson said. “They project in 20 years we’ll be spending anywhere from $8.5 million to $9.5 million just to house our inmates in other locations.”

Besides costs, Swenson said transporting inmates is the most dangerous part of the situation. Taking inmates to Sioux Falls, Union County, Yankton County, Charles Mix County, Rock Rapids, Iowa, and Worthington, Minn., causes logistics issues and safety concerns.

Swenson said the uncertainty of running out of space in Minnehaha County is troublesome.

Poppens hopes moving forward with the bond issue will alleviate that worry on where to house inmates if they run out of space in Minnehaha County. He voted in favor of the bond to avoid any further delay in building a facility.

“For myself, it was a matter of timing it so we could have the building breaking ground a year from this spring. Any delay at this point would put that in jeopardy,” Poppens said. “Then, timing to get it open in time, we’re in the midst of a five-year contract with Minnehaha County. I would like our facility to be up and running before that contract is up because this is a relatively new venture for the county.”

In moving forward with the bond, Schmidt moved that the commission host four public meetings to get public input and present information about the project.

The proposed public safety center would be for a 200-bed jail, plus a courtroom, training room, judge’s chambers, sheriff’s offices and attorney-client offices. It could also potentially house emergency management, 911 dispatch and Game, Fish & Parks.

The courthouse in Canton would still be the home for the sheriff’s office and most court cases.

While the location has not been determined for sure, the initial thoughts have been to be in the Tea, Harrisburg or Sioux Falls area. Poppens said they are looking at those areas of the county because that is where the density of the crime is happening. The building also needs to have access to city sewer, water and infrastructure. Plus, since they are looking at the possibility of housing inmates from outside of the county, having easy access to the interstate is also favorable.

“That’s where the density of the population is and that’s where the density of the crime is happening,” Poppens said.

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