The countdown: Top stories of 2012, No. 5-1Published 10:12am Tuesday, January 1, 2013
2. Operating expenses for new jail increase, but many officials still back decision
The Mower County Jail and Justice Center project, completed in September of 2010, was one of the most hotly debated issues in the county’s history and one of the most expensive.
A 2012 report by the Herald showed that since the completion of the $28-million project, the jail’s operating expenses have increased, largely fueled by staffing costs.
That staffing-driven spike came as no surprise to Commissioner Tony Bennett, who was a a staunch opponent of the jail project before being elected.
“That’s what those of us who opposed it said would happen, but I don’t think that was really a mystery to anybody,” Bennett said.
In its first year, the jail’s net operating costs were $2.49 million, according to county documents. That’s up from $1.46 million in 2007, $1.69 million in 2008, $1.68 million in 2009, and $2.31 million in 2010. However, county officials said the jail expenditures don’t paint the full picture, as the county spent at least $100,000 a year through 2010 in the sheriff’s budget to transport inmates boarded at other jails — a figure Sheriff Terese Amazi called a conservative estimate. In 2012, the jail’s net operating cost is estimated at $2.51 million.
The jail’s staff increased from about 16 to 31.6, and regular salaries increased from around $530,000 in both 2007 and 2008 and $580,000 in 2009, to $840,000 in 2010 and $1.19 million in 2011. The county’s 2012 budget projects regular jail salaries at $1.24 million.
Still, most of the people who voted for the project maintain it was the correct decision.
“Where in the hell would we be if we didn’t have a jail in Mower County,” said former Commissioner Dick Lang, who was one of three commissioners to vote for the project, along with current Commissioner Ray Tucker and former Commissioner Dave Tollefson.
Tucker, who lost a bid for re-election in November, said the jail will serve the community well or many years.
—By Jason Schoonover