New jail delays costly for county

ESCANABA — Delays in opening the new Delta County Correctional Facility at the Delta County Service Center have taken a financial toll on the county’s corrections department. Delta County’s finance committee recommended the approval of a budget amendment that would move almost $100,000 from the county’s general fund balance to the corrections budget during a meeting Tuesday.

Delta County Administrator Philip Strom said, on paper, the budget for the corrections department may appear to be in OK shape — 66 percent of the county’s 2018-19 fiscal year is done, and about 64 percent of the department’s budget has been spent. However, multiple line items in the budget are significantly higher than they were supposed to be at this point in the fiscal year.

“That’s because we had hoped and budgeted for being in the new jail by March 1,” he said.

According to Strom, some of the most heavily affected line items deal with bills for city water, electric and gas.

“Those have basically been depleted within the current budget,” he said.

The move to the new correctional facility is now set to be complete by the end of June. By then, the county will have been running two jails for four months more than it anticipated.

Strom noted he did not want other county departments to be impacted by the situation.

“I don’t think we ask other departments to sacrifice their budgets and their services to get us through this one-time operations issue,” he said.

A number of minor issues with the new correctional facility prevented the county from moving in earlier.

“There were 64 hold-ups,” Sheriff Ed Oswald said.

These issues included problems with electrical lines and cell heating, among others.

Delta County Board of Commissioners Chair Patrick Johnson asked if the county has considered taking legal action against the construction firms involved with the project due to their role in the delay. Strom said the county’s initial contract with the firms included a November date for “substantial completion” of the project.

“We had some difficult conversations about substantial completion,” Strom said, noting opinions on when the milestone was met differed.

Early in the winter of 2018-19, Delta County made an agreement with the construction firms to extend the deadline for substantial completion from November to January.

“Although we couldn’t occupy the jail in January, we did think that it was (substantially) complete,” Strom said.

Strom also noted taking legal action may not currently be the best option for Delta County.

“We have an interest in a long-term good relationship with the construction managers, because they’re going to be helping us with warranty issues that come up over the next year and if we initiate litigation … it’s going to really maybe do more harm than good in terms of that relationship,” he said.

Along with the construction issues, factors that have played a role in the delay are the county’s desire not to rush its corrections staff into the new facility before they have been sufficiently trained and the harsh winter weather seen locally over the past few months.

“Our roof has issues that we found out about after the winter, and after the substantial completion date,” Strom said.

In addition to these issues, the county has had to house two inmates in Alger County. These inmates are co-defendants and one is related to a corrections officer.

“That’s costing us about $2,000 a month for out-of-county prisoner transport that we were not anticipating,” Strom said.

At the finance committee’s direction, Strom will prepare the $99,400 budget amendment. It will go to the Delta County Board of Commissioners for final approval.

During the meeting, the finance committee also discussed the impact of a recently-approved law enforcement millage request for up to 1.3 mills — $1.30 per each $1,000 of taxable value — from 2020 to 2029. .9 of these mills were renewed, and .4 mills were newly introduced.

“(We) went for more mills to put on additional officers, and it passed,” Oswald said.

Strom said the increase should allow Delta County to support a total of four new road patrol officer positions in the near future. However, the positions are unlikely to be filled simultaneously — instead, the county is looking to post two job openings this summer.

“We’re going to get two new officers in for probably August-September, realistically, and then we’ll probably take a similar approach at the end of next year … so we’re not training four all at the same time and we’re not backfilling four positions if they take some time off,” he said.

Funds from the millage are also expected to support increases to the road patrol’s reserves and pension funded status.

The finance committee’s meeting was preceded by a meeting of the Delta County Board of Commissioners. During the meeting, the board:

– officially asserted its authority to make final decisions related to master plan adoption.

– approved a contract for the sharing of legal services between Delta County and the City of Escanaba.

– accepted a grant not to exceed $35,000 from USDA Rural Development for township fire signs.

– gave Johnson authority to sign a contract for a Michigan Department of Transportation grant. The department will provide the county with a maximum of $4,600 through the grant, which will be used for an airport awareness project at the Delta County Airport.

– formally adopted a policy for exit interviews.

– accepted a revised equalization report for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

– directed Strom to write a letter advocating for the appointment of David Maturen to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

– voted in favor of filing a claim for a class-action lawsuit against Visa and Mastercard.

– gave Strom permission to travel out-of-county to attend the Michigan Association of County Administrative Officers’ 2019 Spring Conference.