City/county officials discuss jail progress, budget

Published 6:23 am Thursday, December 17, 2009

Officials with the city of Austin and Mower County met in the board room of the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday to informally discuss local issues.

Three county officials and four city officials met to discuss the 2010 budgets and levies, progress on the Mower County Jail and Justice Center, and the special election to fill the commissioners vacancy.

Mower County Jail and Justice Center

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Commissioner David Hillier toured the jail and justice center on Wednesday before the meeting, and he updated the city officials on the progress of construction.

“I was there about three weeks ago, and it’s changed a lot since then,” Hillier said.

Some of the biggest changes, Hillier said, are visible on the second floor of the building in the court rooms and court administration offices, where he said walls are being installed. The structures of some of the 7-by-10 cells are also in place.

The building is permanently enclosed and heated for the winter except for a few windows and doors sealed with plastic in order to move equipment.

Hillier described the project as slightly ahead of schedule with the building set to be completed sometime in the summer of 2010. However, County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said the building likely won’t open until September or October because it will take at least three months to train jailers to work in the new building.

City officials plan to tour the building sometime in the near future.

Budgets and levies

City Administrator Jim Hurm updated the county officials on the city’s budget and 5.26 percent levy increase. About 1.42 percent is expected to come from Lansing Township, which was recently annexed into city. Another 2 percent of that increase is anticipated to come from new growth in the city. Despite increases, some citizens did see a decrease in taxes.

Despite the economic climate, Hurm said he was glad the city was able to balance the budget without excessive many cuts.

“The bottom line is we were able to balance the budget this year,” Hurm said.

Some of the necessary cuts came in the 2009 budget, which Hurm said prevented further cuts this year.

While the county also made cuts to the 2009 budget, Oscarson spoke of the cuts the county made in the 2010 budget.

The county’s budget saw funding cuts to all Mower County development corporations and the Mower County Fair Board. The county also decreased funding to the Mower County Historical Society by 10 percent and funding to the Soil and Water Conservation District by 5 percent.

“There’s pain in our budget,” Oscarson said.

Oscarson said he’s heard budget predictions from state officials who expect the state deficit to get worse the next few years before it improves.

Likewise, Hurm said this is a problem the city and county will face in the coming the years.

“It’s not a short-term financial problem, it’s long term,” Hurm said.

Hurm suggest the county and city be open to joint efforts in the future to reduce costs.

5th District Commissioners vacancy

Hillier updated the city officials on the special election planned for Feb. 10 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Commissioner David Tollefson.

Residents of the district can file an affidavit of candidacy starting at 8 a.m. Dec. 22 through 5 p.m. Dec. 30. If more than two people file for the vacancy, a special primary would be held Jan. 20.

The polling places for both at set at Southgate Elementary School and Austin High School. Only constituents who vote at those two locations will vote in the election.