July 14, 2024

Rezoned! Law Enforcement Center to start construction 

A mock up of what the new Law Enforcement Center will look like when looking at it from the Southeast.

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Jake Sias
Grant County Herald

After years of debate surrounding the proposed $8.5 million law enforcement center, a crucial decision was made in the Elbow Lake Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on June 27. The commission voted unanimously to partially rezone Parcel No. 19-0754-000, enabling the construction of the much-anticipated center.

The public hearing, a usually quiet affair for the Planning and Zoning Commission, saw high attendance with city and county officials, law enforcement officers, and curious citizens, and primarily focused on the rezoning of the contentious parcel of land situated behind the historic courthouse. The Planning and Zoning Commission heard many of the public’s thoughts on the matter. It was also suggested that if the meeting were held at a more opportune time, even more of the public would be present with an even broader scope of opinions on the subject, as this has been a hotly-debated topic for many. 

During the public hearing, Sheriff Combs read aloud a letter he had penned to the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission expressing his feelings concerning the need for the Law Enforcement Center and the on-going delays. He stated:

While I  welcome comments and suggestions from all who are interested in public safety, it should be remembered that they are comments and only suggestions made to the elected Sheriff. The voters of Grant County have entrusted me with the protection of their families and I have sworn an oath to do that to the best of my ability.

With that in mind be assured over this long period of time and even now I have explored and continue to review the most cost effective way to protect the public, provide law enforcement, fire and medical services and meet the duties and responsibilities imposed on the office of the Sheriff and the county as the funding authority for those efforts. Continued delay on moving this project forward is simply not consistent with my duty, nor in my opinion yours, to our constituents.

After the hearing, the Planning and Zoning Commission held their meeting, discussing the pros and cons of rezoning. One concern, as voiced by Kent Hedstrom, was that if the entire parcel were to be rezoned, that the county would be at liberty to further build a prison on that property. This concern was addressed by Combs who stated that demand for building new prisons and jails is low, as current facilities are struggling to keep open as many cannot maintain a large enough population or to retain staffing.  

Ultimately, the decision was made that the parcel could be partially rezoned for just the footprint of the new construction and the historic courthouse to be classified as “Commercial A.” This seemed to be a surprise to many, as it wasn’t well known that the Planning and Zoning Commission had the ability to partially rezone singular parcels of land. Mayor Deb Hengel later commented on the compromise saying, “This just shows when we become entrenched we lose the ability to see the options for compromise.” This solution appears to have satisfied the worries of prison construction while providing for the need of the Law Enforcement Center. Hengel also commended the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission for setting aside any personal feelings and fulfilling their duties and responsibilities by doing what was best for the people. 

Following the Commission’s decision, the City Council convened later that day, adopting the recommended changes. 

Combs mentioned that contractors were already “chomping at the bit to start” and were only waiting for the green light to begin. Now that appropriate paperwork and bureaucratic necessities have been completed, the construction is set to begin August 1. 

Below is the letter written by Sherriff Jon Combs

Members of the Planning Commission,

For the past several years, Sheriffs preceding me have spent an uncounted amount of time and energy on the needs for Public Safety Communications and Sheriff’s Office Operations. As you know, as both the Chief Deputy and now as Sheriff, I have been deeply involved over all this time, exploring issues of funding, location, needs of the public and public safety. I have worked cooperatively with many public safety and public sector partners to employ my experience of a lifetime career in public safety to that effort.

As the Grant County Sheriff, I am the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of this county and while I seek to work cooperatively with all city and county officials, the final responsibility for county public safety matters belongs to me, the elected Sheriff.

While I welcome comments and suggestions from all who are interested in public safety, it should be remembered that they are comments and only suggestions made to the elected  Sheriff. The voters of Grant County have entrusted me with the protection of their families and I have sworn an oath to do that to the best of my ability.

With that in mind, be assured over this long period of time and even now I have explored and continue to review the most cost effective way to protect the public, provide law enforcement, fire and medical services, and meet the duties and responsibilities imposed on the office of the Sheriff and the county as the funding authority for those efforts. Continued delay on moving this project forward is simply not consistent with my duty, nor in my opinion yours, to our constituents.

As to the option of doing nothing and simply limping along with our very inadequate existing resources, I cannot in good conscience even consider that a possible option. The improvements needed are long overdue and we can no longer compromise the interests of the public by doing nothing.

This leaves the only realistic option to be the one that has been studied, discussed and planned for over these past years and that is to construct and operate a modern facility at its planned location using the funding mechanism that has been settled on.

There is simply no good reason for any more delay. When costs change they only go in one direction and that is up. Likewise each day the need for better resources becomes more obvious to not only the voters and thinking members of the public, but also to anyone who wants to make sure law enforcement, fire, ambulance, medical and other emergency services are quickly available when they are needed.

Respectfully Submitted,

Sheriff Jon Combs

Grant County Sheriff’s Office

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