Bids open for jail project

Published 10:35 am Thursday, March 5, 2009

On Wednesday, Mower County received bids on construction of the proposed new $36 million jail and justice center in downtown Austin.

The bid opening took place before an overflow crowd of constructor representatives in the commissioners’ meeting room.

Two boxes full of bids were delivered to the room for opening. It took two hours to complete the exercise.

Email newsletter signup

KKE Architects, Inc. and Knutson Construction Services, Inc. representatives handled the bids with Mower County commissioners Dave Tollefson, Dave Hillier and Tim Gabrielson watching.

Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen also sat in on the opening to ascertain if the bids were properly submitted.

According to county coordinator Craig Oscarson, the bids will be reviewed and a summary prepared for the commissioners’ review and action.

Meanwhile, site preparation continues in the south block of a two-block site where the new two-story, 128-bed Mower County Jail and Justice Center will be built.

Commissioners have universally said they “hope” the bids will be lower than previously expected due to the economic downturn and, therefore, more palatable to accept.

On Wednesday night, the Mower County Board of Commissioners took the “initial steps of a planning process” to deal with anticipated budget woes ahead.

The commissioners held a work session to hear a seven-page report describing potential budget cuts.

Oscarson described the exercise as the “initial steps in a planning process” that could take weeks if not months.

“Everything is on the table,” Oscarson said at the outset of the meeting.

However, the county must wait for the Minnesota Legislature’s own actions to address a $4.8-billion state budget deficit before any local cuts can be made.

When the impact of the state budget shortfall on Mower County is known and the impacts of the economic recession are ascertained, the county can make its own budget adjustments.

“Based on the Governor’s proposed budget,” Oscarson said, “the 2009 and 2010 County Program Aid reduction to Mower County is estimated at $504,331 and $715,938, respectively.”

“The challenge once the final state budget is approved,” Oscarson said, “is to develop short-term and long-term budget modifications that have the best impact on the taxpayers and the public we serve.”

While a $1.2-million shortfall looms, the commissioners will have to act immediately to address one potential budget reduction option.

Number one on the list reviewed Wednesday night was appointing an auditor/treasurer and recorder.

This would require special legislation to merge the two offices.

Presently, the auditor/treasurer and recorder are elected by the people to four-year terms.

The proposal under consideration would have those two offices merge with the Mower County Assessor, who is also an appointed official.

The preliminary estimated cost savings is $100,000 a year.

The county board’s finance committee will review the proposal and make a recommendation to the entire county board at next Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The need for quick action is necessitated by the required action of the Minnesota Legislature in the current session to allow Mower County to merge the offices and appoint the one official to oversee their operation.

Tonight, Austin city officials and staff discuss their budget woes due to six-figure reductions in Local Government Aid at a public meeting, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Mower County Senior Center.