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GF COUNTY JAIL: Deficit could raise taxes

The Grand Forks County Commission approved a plan Tuesday that would impose a levy of as much as 10 mills to pay the debt service on the new jail building.

The Grand Forks County Commission approved a plan Tuesday that would impose a levy of as much as 10 mills to pay the debt service on the new jail building.

The plan, presented by the commission's bonding counsel, is the latest move required because of mistakes made a year ago in budgeting for the new jail, which is nearly full of inmates.

Gary Malm, commission chairman, emphasized that the five-member board hasn't decided yet to levy that much but only to accept a plan that would allow such a levy. Not until all the budgets for the 2008 fiscal year are in and analyzed will the commission know how much it will need to pay down on the $1.3 million in debt service on the new $16 million jail building, Malm said.

A mill levied across the county this year raised $161,000, so 10 mills would raise $1.6 million, according to figures provided by Debbie Nelson, county auditor.

Next year, a one-mill tax levy will raise more than $161,000 through the expected increase in property values, she said.


Commissioners blame former jail administrator Gary Gardner for misinforming them about the financial potential of the new jail's operation, especially revenue that would come with federal prisoners. Gardner told the commission that he had been assured by a federal official the jail would receive an increase up to $110 per federal inmate, and the budget for the jail reflected that expected revenue.

It turned out Gardner's figures were off, and the federal rate for keeping inmates in the Grand Forks Correctional Center actually has remained at $70 a day. Gardner was fired by the commission, which said he had provided them with inaccurate information and poor budgeting, especially on the number of employees needed to run the jail. Interviews will begin next month for candidates to replace Gardner.

About a dozen people have applied for the jail administrator position, including the interim administrator, Capt. Linda Wagner. Commission members hope to have a permanent administrator on the job by Oct. 1.

Wagner told the commission the jail had 196 inmates as of 7 a.m. Tuesday, including 35 federal inmates bringing in the $70-per-day federal rate. Another 10 inmates are from the overcrowded North Dakota penitentiary in Bismarck, at a rate of $60 a day, Wagner said.

The federal inmates include 16 from the marshal's service, seven from the U.S. Border Patrol, six from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and three from the Air Force.

The city has seven inmates in the county jail, Wagner said.

Having 196 inmates is near a record, commissioners said after the meeting.

The new jail's capacity is 220. The more inmates, the more revenue to help cut the jail's operations budget deficit, commissioners said.


The jail still is slated to lose up to $1 million in its first year, but the commission hopes to have a more realistic budget for next year.

Originally, the commission hoped to service the debt on the $16 million jail by the projected $100,000 surplus the jail would run. That didn't work out.

How much in added tax levies will need to be raised to pay the debt service on the new jail won't be known for a month or more.

Veterans service

The commission also welcomed the new county veterans service officer, Barbara Zavala.

Zavala, one of four finalists interviewed by commissioners Friday, is a billing supervisor at Altru Health System and a former equal employment opportunity administrator at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The commission offered Zavala the job later in the day Friday and formally approved the hire Tuesday.

The previous veterans service officer, Air Force veteran Tom Saddler, left the position at the beginning of July.


The job requires a military veteran with at least two years of active duty. Veterans service officers help military veterans and their families obtain benefits and medical help.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237 or at slee@gfherald.com .

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