Commissioners push for cutting jail costsCANNON FALLS -- As the average population at the Goodhue County jail continues to hover at lower numbers, county commissioners are pushing for solutions to cut costs.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
CANNON FALLS -- As the average population at the Goodhue County jail continues to hover at lower numbers, county commissioners are pushing for solutions to cut costs.
"We just want to stop the bleeding," Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said at a Thursday Committee of the Whole meeting on the Cannon Valley Fairgrounds. "We have a sieve here."
At a March Committee of the Whole meeting, commissioners encouraged the sheriff to look for ways to trim the budget, including boarding inmates from other prisons.
But Sheriff Scott McNurlin said despite many talks, that solution isn't looking promising, at least for this year.
"We have shaken all the trees both near and far," McNurlin said.
The sheriff's department has succeeded in eliminating positions using attrition - not replacing positions of those who retire, quit or transfer.
Cutting staff has reduced the jail's capacity, however. The jail is built to house up to 153 inmates, but current staffing levels only allow for 60.
Greg Croucher of the Minnesota Department of Corrections was on hand to answer questions about staffing requirements and other regulations on jails.
Although commissioners questioned the number of employees working at the jail, Croucher told the board that the 44 staffers represent one less than the requirement for the jail to have a maximum of 60 prisoners at one time.
The board asked the sheriff and Croucher to run staffing numbers for a maximum of 30 and 59 inmates. Rechtzigel also encouraged them to explore numbers for 50 inmates, a limit that would require special permission from the DOC because it doesn't fit typical classifications.
While the jail population has steadily remained lower than in the past, McNurlin cautioned the board against pushing capacity limits too low.
"We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow," he said. "I don't have the crystal ball to tell you what's going to happen and what's not going to happen."
Another Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the jail is slated for August.
A request to fill two dispatch positions spurred discussion on the jail budget during the board's regular meeting, though Rechtzigel urged the other commissioners to separate the two issues.
"I know it would be nice to coordinate a smooth transition, but I don't see how that's going to happen," he said.
Allen had suggested eliminating five positions from the jail and shifting two of those employees to dispatch.
"We're overstaffed in one area and understaffed in another," he said.
But McNurlin said a transfer wouldn't necessarily work out.
"They are two entirely different jobs," he said.
The department has been in talks with nearby counties to combine dispatch services, though McNurlin said it likely would take at least a year to complete that process.
While the sheriff said he understands the financial realities, he encouraged the board to consider matters beyond the budget.
"I know that public safety isn't cheap," McNurlin said. "We're doing the best we can given what we've been given and the facility we have."