Sheriff hits snag in jail expansion for federal inmates as board halts progress
In 2006, Dakota County opened a new $7 million jail after voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase, but that was only phase one.
Now the county is hoping to move to a phase two expansion, but this time it won't cost taxpayers anything. Instead, it should bring in money.
But the plan has hit a snag that could end up costing residents in the long run.
"I said multiple times I'm going to be a harder sell than the board because we don't have the money to do this and we're not going to pass any bond issue to do it because again."
Chris Kleinberg has been the head of the Dakota County Sheriff's Office for a little more than a decade, serving as sheriff in Thurston County before that. He knows his way around the law enforcement world.
"It's almost like adding a garage to a house you already live in. So it was already designed and built for that." Kleinberg wasn't in Dakota County when the current 136-bed jail was approved and constructed in 2006, but the need for more space has come as the federal government needs beds for their inmates.
"This expansion came about when the new administration got in and for my understanding, they signed an executive order that stopped all federal inmates being housed in private prisons," Kleinberg said of why this new expansion is needed. "So what that did was caused the Marshals to be on a scramble because they already were scrambling looking for bed space now."
But this expansion is different, the cost won't be footed by taxpayers. It would be paid for by the U.S. Marshals Service and bring in revenue for the county.
"It would be millions of dollars in revenue a year once it's built," Kleinberg said, stating that the county is already bringing in funds from the feds for housing around 20 inmates now. "The contract states that every federal inmate in the beds will be at $150 a day per diem for the 30-month term to pay back whatever we borrow to build it."
The 112-bed addition will increase the jail capacity to nearly 250 inmates in total and add more than a dozen new correction officer positions. It would also allow the jail to separate the county and federal inmates instead of housing them together.
"That the only reason why this is happening is for the federal inmates. It wouldn't be if we didn't house federal inmates. I think there was a year close to $800,000 in revenue we brought in on the backs of my corrections people and my deputies housing these inmates," Kleinberg said of the agreement.
And these inmates are local all from the tri-state region and awaiting trial in their respective counties. Dakota County doesn't house federal inmates already convicted of a crime.
We don't go to Bad Guy Island and fly a bunch of bad guys here to put in our jail. These are all local from the tri-state area.But Kleinberg has hit a snag. Three of the five members of the Dakota County Board of Commissioners have halted the plans which could lead to the county being sued for breach of contract and a quickly rising interest rate.
"It's already went up to 1%. So you know we're getting reimbursed. Yes, but that's they're just the more they wait the more money we spend and they've already signed the contracts to do this," Kleinberg said the three members were recently elected and haven't been here for the years-long discussion about this expansion. "They signed the contracts and now they're dragging their feet and it's just costing us more money for every meeting that they don't bring that construction management company on to get this ball. They're just costing us more money is delaying it more and more."
Siouxland News reached out to the Dakota County Board of Commissioners about their reason behind the delay. Janet Gill with the board says they want to make sure this is the right move for the taxpayers.
"One of the things that we wanted to have is the numbers reviewed because obviously, construction costs have gone up considerably," Gill said on the phone. "We wanted to have the plans reviewed as well for any code changes or any electrical, H-VAC related to COVID-19 for combined spaces, all of those things. We feel like we need to have a lot more information. We don't want to necessarily commit to a project without knowing all of the details. And we also want the taxpayers of Dakota County to weigh in on this. Is this a project they want us to move forward with?"
Kleinberg has called for the resignation of those board members who are stalling this project, saying this move will be the thing that costs taxpayers in the end. He says this expansion will have to come eventually, whether it be 5, 10 or 20 years down the road and doing it now, while the U.S. Marshals can foot the bill, is the smart way to go.
"I'd like to acknowledge that this expansion has really nothing to do with county inmates. If it was for the county inmates, we wouldn't be building it."
"We have the opportunity to help these Feds and get our extension to our jail built," Kleinberg said. "And even if in 10 years, with a 10-year contract for 85 beds at 130 months at 150 bucks a bit. So even if in five years, they decide we don't want to house Federal inmates, it's already built for, I shouldn't say free again, it's on the backs of my employees. They're the ones doing the work and getting the revenue to pay for it, but it's free to the taxpayers. So even if that happens, it's already paid for and built. We can use it for overflow or whatever. But it's there."
Katie Copple: "When will it be too late to make this expansion happen? If these board members still hold off and hold off, when will it be too late to make it happen?"
"This is an opinion and I think we're there," Kleinberg said. "I'm almost ready to wash my hands of it."
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