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Goodhue County Sheriff opts for conservative budget cuts

The Goodhue County Sheriff's Office will take a conservative approach to tackling budget issues, at least for now.

The department presented the Goodhue County Board with a variety of potential measures to cut the budget for the Adult Detention Center, ranging from leaving some open positions unfilled to closing the facility.

"This is meant to begin some dialogue for things we could do in the future," Sheriff Scott McNurlin said. "I do look at this as a continuing conversation. It's an educational process so we all understand what's at stake here."

The sheriff and other department leaders met with the board at a committee-of-the-whole meeting Tuesday to discuss the options. Ultimately, commissioners and department officials generally agreeed that cuts should start out small, likely with leaving vacant staff positions open.

However, some commissioners said there is still potential for deeper cuts.

"We need to be proactive so we don't run into a budget wall in the future where we have to overreact," Commissioner Ron Allen said.

Expenses at the jail far outstrip revenues, and inmate populations are low not only in Goodhue County or the region, but nationally as well, McNurlin said. The population slump is a phenomenon most law enforcement officials can't explain, he said.

For 2011, the sheriff's department has budgeted nearly $4.4 million in expenses and about $555,000 in revenue for the jail.

With a staffer recently moving to a position outside the jail, one job has already been left vacant. If daily populations remain the same, there are two more positions the department likely won't fill should they open up, Chief Deputy Lyle Lorenson said.

The sheriff's department can lose those three positions and still "remain operating effectively and safely," he said.

The three-position reduction would mean a savings of nearly $190,000 per year in salary, benefits and clothing allowance, according to the department's report. It also could mean a minimal increase in overtime for remaining staff.

Rehiring staff is an option should inmate populations increase. But this comes with a hiring and training cost of $8,200 per detention deputy and takes 16 weeks from the time the position is posted to when the deputy starts working in the jail, according to the report.

At the start of this year, the jail had 46 full-time employees, down from 49 last year.

Regional discussions

Allen said while the department should be conservative with cuts for now, more may come in the future. Board Chairman Ted Seifert agreed.

"I see an atmosphere where we're solving the state's budget problems by cutting locally," Seifert said.

Commissioners encouraged the sheriff's department to continue discussing options for collaboration with other counties.

"Regional discussion is going to be the solution to long-term problems," Commissioner Richard Samuelson said.

In the short term, boarding inmates will be the focus of budget solutions for the department, Lorenson said. The county could house some of Dakota County's prisoners as they temporarily shut down a portion of their facility soon.

The department is also discussing options with several other counties, including Dodge County, which doesn't have a jail and must board all of its prisoners.

On Feb. 25, jail staff and county leaders from the region met in Goodhue County to discuss collaboration and cost savings ideas. Goodhue County officials said they plan to continue that discussion and hold another regional meeting.

The sheriff's department will come back to the County Board in a few months, Lorenson said, to report on any changes in the number of detainees and boarders and evaluate where to go from there.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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