New jail, old dam dominate Schoolcraft commission meeting

MANISTIQUE — A new jail and an old dam dominated the conversation at the Schoolcraft County Commission Thursday.

Commissioners accepted a bid from Byce & Associates, Inc. and Securitecture, LLC to do a jail feasibility study for $16,000. plus up to $3,500 for expenses including travel and printing. The company will determine adult detention needs and how they can be met by building a new facility or converting an existing building into a new jail and mental health diversion facility.

After meeting with the county finance committee last week, Commissioner Dan Hoholik asked for another bid from the company that did not include the mental health diversion portion. He received a new bid without that part. It was just $,1500 less, so the commission approved the all-encompassing option. The Kalamzoo-based firm said it will complete the study that will include assessing long and short term needs for the jail and mental health diversion, provide a preliminary architectural program for the jail and sheriff’s office, analyze existing and potential sites, estimate probable construction costs as well as staffing and operating costs. The work will be completed in 60 days.

“We all have to get on board with this. We need to understand and make the community understand the importance of a new jail for our county. If we don’t, we could lose our jail entirely and if that happens we’ll never get another one,” said Commissioner Larry Mersnick. He added the Schoolcraft County Jail has a major impact on the county’s economy and there were no other options to house prisoners in the U.P.

“Some counties have closed their jails and the other jails are full now,” he said

The commission also discussed easements for Gulliver Lake Dam in Doyle Township. Commissioner Craig Reiter said easements were needed to provide access for construction equipment for replacing the dam. Board Chair Allan Ott had already signed the easements at Reiter’s request.

Commissioner Chris Rantanen demanded to know why that had happened. “The board did not approve signing those,” she said. “You’re not a one-man show. You can’t be telling us what to do.”

Reiter explained the easements were just one-time and would be revoked immediately after the dam was finished. He added, in response to Rantanen’s accusations, that they had to get a grant proposal to CUPPAD for the construction.

“It’s just very frustrating,” she said. “You should have at least let us know before signing those easements.”

The commissioners authorized Ott’s signatures and decided to proceed with repairing or replacing the dam. Expenses not covered by the CUPPAD grant will be passed on to the Gulliver Lake Property Association.

In other action, the commissioners heard from Magistrate Dave Maddox about an indigent defense plan from the state, approved a request to transfer a retired sheriff’s department vehicle to the parole/probation office, and approved a bid from Graphos Year-Round for $85 per event to clear snow from the front and back parking areas.

The commission also approved Blue Cross/Blue Shield for health insurance for 2018 and opted out of the Michigan act that requires employees to pay 20 percent of their health insurance costs. However, government bodies are exempt if they choose, so Schoolcraft County will pay 85 percent of medical insurance and employees will pay 15 percent.

Mersnick also reported he had attended the Schoolcraft County EDC board meeting and had learned the group, now known as Schoolcraft Tourism and Commerce, has become a 501 c3 non-profit organization. He said that Executive Director Alan Barr will come to the Nov. 30 commission meeting to request the dissolution of the EDC.