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Board locks up plans for jail, dispatchers

By John Weiss

weiss@postbulletin.com

WABASHA — Work can now go forward on opening Wabasha County’s new jail.

By a vote of 4-1 Tuesday morning, the Wabasha County Board decided to keep its dispatchers in the county instead of merging the operation with Goodhue County.

Until the board decided where the dispatch center would be, the county couldn’t open the jail portion of the center that will also include courts, sheriff, emergency management, court administration, probation and the county attorney, said County Administrator David Johnson. The center is on the south side of Wabasha.

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The former jail was shut down because it was too old and couldn’t be upgraded. The county is sending its prisoners to Goodhue County.

The new jail is 85 to 90 percent complete, according to Sheriff Rodney Bartsh. The first office employees could move in by early October, and the first inmates in late fall.

That question of where to put the dispatch center was debated and studied for at least half a year in hopes that merging would save money. In the end, however, the county found the savings weren’t enough to justify a joint dispatch center. The cost was one big reason why commissioners Pete Riester, Rich Hall, Dave Windhorst and Tom Dwelle voted for keeping it local.

Commissioner Merl Norman also said he was concerned about money but voted against the motion because he said there’s no hurry to make the decision.

The county is getting a good deal with Goodhue, and in a few months might find there are other factors that might make a joint operation a money saver.

If Wabasha opens its jail, "we’re going to have a lot of empty ones (beds)," he said.

But consultants advised that a separate dispatch center for now is best, Riester said.

But the county also knows that the days of having dispatch in the county might end. The big push is to have several counties join in a regional center with a central administrator, Windhorst said. He’d even like to have such a center in Wabasha County.

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Work on other parts of the center is proceeding, Johnson said. The center opening will start a domino effect in which courts will leave the courthouse and some other departments will move in. That will free some other offices that will move to the courthouse or the administration building. In the end the public health building won’t be needed, so that will save money, he said. The county isn’t sure what to do with the old jail, he said.

The move will consolidate departments with similar duties so the public won’t have to go to three buildings for one permit, he said.

The cost of the new justice center is between $21 million and $22 million. Cost for new dispatch equipment isn’t included because the county has spent the past several years saving for that, he said.

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