Ad hoc committee formed to look at jail issue

ALPENA – The Alpena County Board of Commissioners voted to form an ad hoc committee that will look into the viability and cost of constructing a new jail and annex building.

The decision to form the committee was made after Probate Judge Tom LaCross read a letter outlining the conditions of the jail facility and the annex building downtown. The letter also was signed by 88th District Court Judge Theodore Johnson, 26th Circuit Court Judge Michael Mack and Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski.

LaCross told the commissioners that despite investing money into improvements at the jail and the office building, the fixes are just temporary solutions to problems that need to be addressed. He cited having a justice center that would combine the jail and the courts that would allow the courts, the prosecutor and the sheriff department to operate more fluently, as well as cut expenses.

Commissioner Tom Mullaney said the county last researched building a new jail about 10 years ago and at that time it would have cost between $8-$12 million for a jail alone. He said there were significant cost savings from other areas of operation, however, such as transporting prisoners to and from the jail on days they needed to go before the judge.

“The need for a new jail has been here for years and years and we have been wasting money on it for years and years,” Mullaney said. “If it were owned by a private corporation it would probably been shut down already. Then there is the inefficiency of transporting the prisoners. When we looked at how much it cost to move them it was about $125,000 a year in costs. At some point we’ll have to do something.”

Commissioner Mark Hall agreed with Mullaney that a new jail is needed, but said until the county residents agree to pick up the bill, he doesn’t know where the money could come from without putting the county and the taxpayers in serious debt.

“This board or future boards are going to have to deal with that jail sometime,” Hall said. “It is going to have to be the people who decide if they are willing to fund these things. If the people say ‘yes put a bond in place or get a millage and build it’ then we would. When they say ‘no’ then you have to live within the means of what the people are giving us. When the people want it and are willing to pay for it, you can build anything.”

Commissioners Bob Adrian, Rich Fourtier, along with Mullaney will represent the county on the committee, with Adrian serving as the chairman. A meeting date for the new board was not scheduled.

In other business:

  • the commissioners voted to move forward with a $1.6 million plan that will have the county building retrofitted with energy efficient upgrades. Amersesco, the company who did the energy study said if its recommendations are followed the county will enjoy more than $105,000 in savings annually. If that total is not met, Ameresco will pay the difference to the county. The deal is contingent on the county finding a viable funding option.
  • the commissioners appointed Treasurer Kim Ludlow to the Alpena County Building Authority.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689.