$11M Question: Houghton County Board votes to put jail millage on Nov. ballot

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Karin Cooper, architect with U.P. Engineers & Architects, discusses cost estimates for the proposed Houghton County Jail addition at Tuesday’s County Board meeting. The board approved placing a millage on the November ballot.

HOUGHTON — A millage proposal for a $10.922 million Houghton County Jail addition will go to voters in November.

The Houghton County Board OK’d putting a millage proposal in front of voters at its meeting Tuesday.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be that high, but we need a new jail,” said Commissioner Anton Pintar.

The length of the millage and the precise rate have yet to be formally determined. Discussions Tuesday coalesced on 20 years for the millage.

“My opinion is that 20 years gets it paid off quickly,” said Commissioner Tom Tikkanen. “There’s significant savings for the taxpayer on interest.”

At 4 percent interest over 20 years, the rate would be about .83 mills, said county Administrator Eric Forsberg.

Construction accounts for about $8.5 million of the cost, said Karin Cooper, project architect with U.P. Engineers & Architects. The estimate was done by Tim Seppanen, who has worked for Mattila Construction and FA Industrial.

About $6.5 million comes from the jail addition; another $891,000 comes from the renovation of the existing jail for the work camp. Courthouse renovations are estimated at $433,000.

Cooper said the district courtroom and the offices around it would be stripped and rebuilt more efficiently.

“It’d be new flooring, new ceiling, new walls, paint, everything,” she said.

That number also includes a new stairway that would come from the upper floors, Cooper said.

The county is proposing a 64-bed addition to the jail that would be built behind the courthouse. The parking deck would be torn down to accommodate the new facility.

It would cost about $300,000 to demolish the parking deck, Cooper said. Building a new parking lot is about $309,000.

Equipment, furnishings and miscellaneous fees account for $760,000.

At this point, about 10 percent is being left over for contingency.

“You never want the architect to be low-bid, because then when the real bidders get at it, you don’t have enough money,” Koskela said. “I think this bid here was done with that in mind.”

The board approved a motion to contact an attorney to draft ballot language for the board to consider on the July meeting.

Tikkanen and Chairman Albert Koskela said they had surveyed residents in their district about what they would prefer: a jail addition or a standalone complex. Both said a new complex had gotten no support.

They also pointed to the voters’ rejection of a 2010 proposal for a standalone District Court, Sheriff’s Department and jail that would have cost $15 million.

“Perhaps once we get our jail situation rectified, we can sit down as a county community and talk about the next 100 years,” Tikkanen said.

The jail has had frequent overcrowding issues, often triggering emergency status under state law. It was at or over capacity every day in April, Undersheriff Kevin Coppo reported Tuesday.

It had been under capacity for four days in May. As of Tuesday, there were 16 inmates at the work camp and 33 in jail.

“Thirty-four was getting booked as I sat down,” Coppo said.

Koskela said there would be a series of public hearings after the millage wording is finalized to explain the proposal.