As last Tuesday’s meeting of the Grant County Board of Commissioners got underway, recently appointed chairman Dwight Walvatne asked to speak. Walvatne explained that as a former Grant County Sheriff, and now chairman of the Board of Commissioners, it was time to address a major concern of his. Walvatne said the Sheriff’s Office, located in the first floor of the Grant County Courthouse, is cramped, making it dangerous to staff, and prisoners. He said the space is too small with no safeguards to separate prisoners from dispatch or even, in some instances, the public.
“I feel responsible,” Walvatne said. “The current Sheriff is thinking along the same lines.”
Walvatne first asked the other commissioners, if they also felt there was a need to do something. After all answered in the affirmative, Walvatne reminded them if staff, or a prisoner, is injured at the Sheriff’s Office, it is the county’s liability.
“This needs to be looked at. No other county in Minnesota, that I know of, has to deal with this like we do.”
Walvatne suggested a committee to be appointed to look at financing a law center project without going to the taxpayers.
Current Sheriff, Mark Haberer, told the commissioners that in his law enforcement career, he has worked with all the neighboring counties, and they have found a way to address their needs. He said Grant County needs a way to detain prisoners for a short time, not a jail, while they await transport, or court. Also, dispatchers need facilities, such as restrooms, and a secure breakroom, close to them, so they can work a 12 hour shift and still stay in contact with the public.
“We do a lot of drug compliance testing, for people on parole,” Walvatne said. “Currently, they often have to carry a vial with urine in it past people waiting in line for the License Bureau.”
“We are partners with other agencies such as probation and Emergency Management, and we can’t really do that now,” Haberer added.
The discussion turned to time lines and finances. Commissioner Ken Johnson said law enforcement needs to come up with a plan, what they need, and a time line.
Walvatne said he agreed, but “we can’t stall out or nothing will get done.”
The commissioners asked County Auditor Chad Van Santen when the courthouse bonds would be paid off, possibly freeing up some funds. Van Santen said they should be paid off in 2024.
Commissioner Troy Johnson asked if it was feasible to utilize the Land Management/Emergency Management building on main street.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask,” he said.
Haberer said, these days, law enforcement buildings are built for law enforcement. They have specific needs.
“Also, courthouse security has to be part of it. We can’t do that if we are located a block away. Any new facility should be built on the courthouse grounds.
A law enforcement facility was proposed for the park just north of the courthouse, back in 2018. The idea was heavily promoted by then Sheriff Troy Langlie. When Langlie was defeated, by Mark Haberer, in his bid for re-election, the law enforcement center proposal stalled.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Haberer suggested himself and Chief Deputy Jon Combs meet with the building committee to start looking at the idea. Meanwhile, Chair Dwight Walvatne and Commissioner Ken Johnson will head a finance committee to look at possible paths to finance a law enforcement center. There will be reports at the March County Commissioner meetings.