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Kandiyohi County considers accepting more state prisoners for up to $1.2M in revenue

WILLMAR –– Kandiyohi County could get up to $1.2 million in revenue in the next year by housing more prisoners from the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

The county already boards 40 DOC prisoners but in order to house the 20 additional prisoners the state would like to send here, the county would have to reopen a closed section of the jail and hire four more employees.

If the economics make sense, the action will likely be approved but Sheriff Dan Hartog told the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that “we’re going to chew on that a little bit.”

The commissioners approved a joint powers agreement this week with the Department of Corrections for payment “up to” $1.2 million but did not give the OK yet for increasing the DOC prisoner population to 60.

The hesitancy may come from the on-again/off-again arrangement with the state.

From 2003 to 2011, the Kandiyohi County Jail housed 45 to 60 state prisoners, which provided revenue of about $850,000 a year to the county.

When the prison population fell in 2011, the state pulled the prisoners out and the county laid off eight corrections officers and closed a section of the jail. Since then, another six officers have retired and not been replaced, which means the county has been operating with 14 fewer employees in the jail than three years ago.

Now that the state is running out of space, it has resumed boarding prisoners in county jails and this year has been steadily increasing the number housed here.

The state pays the county $55 a day for each Department of Corrections prisoner.

Last fall the DOC again began housing prisoners here with an agreement of $50,000 to the county, which was amended to $245,000 as the number of state prisoners housed here grew.

The new agreement for up to $1.2 million begins July 1.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the new contract appears to be as long-term as a state contract can be, but said the $1.2 million is not guaranteed.

Kleindl said the agreement will likely be a “good thing” and that revenues will offset the added expense of hiring additional staff. The issue gets sticky, however, if the state pulls prisoners out of the jail again in the future and employees are let go again.

County Board Chairman Jim Butterfield said hiring four additional staff would be an “economic boost” to the county.

“If we have the facility, it’s better to be using it,” said Commissioner Doug Reese.

HRA update

In other action Tuesday, the commissioners got an update on plans to merge the Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority with the Willmar HRA.

Director Jill Bengtson said that as of January, the city employees have been transferred to the county and everyone has the same benefits and employment guidelines.

She said by July 1 all the Willmar HRA property and assets will be legally transferred to the county and the staff will then begin “digging in” with program operations.

The entire transfer and merger process is expected to be completed by Dec. 31, she said.

Kleindl said the merger means that there will be one HRA and one HRA levy for the entire county.

He said merging into one entity simplifies and reduces the bureaucracy and will allow more time for operation of programs.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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