County sets public jail forum dates

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Linda Belote of League of Women Voters of the Copper Country reads a statement at Tuesday’s Houghton County Board meeting.

HOUGHTON — Houghton County will hold seven public hearings this fall on the $11 million proposal for an addition to the jail, the County Board announced at Tuesday’s meeting.

Also Tuesday, the League of Women Voters in the Copper Country announced the publishing of a study on the jail proposal.

Voters will decide in November on the proposal, which would include a 64-bed addition to the jail, to be located behind the courthouse at the current site of a parking deck. The current jail site would be converted into the work camp, which is now located at the Houghton County Memorial Airport.

The millage would also cover improvements to the district courtroom and nearby offices, including the addition of a stairway leading to the court.

The 20-year millage would have an estimated annual rate of .751 mills. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an estimated $37.50 a year, according to county figures.

Sheriff Brian McLean, in a monthly update, said there were 33 inmates Tuesday at the jail, which has a capacity of 28. That had been the case for the preceding month.

“We got close at 29, but we can’t quite crack that 28 count yet,” he said.

The county meetings are scheduled for:

• 7 p.m. Sept. 27, at the Jeffers High School Auditorium in Painesdale.

• 6:30 p.m. Oct. 3, at the C-L-K Elementary School commons area in Calumet.

• 6:30 p.m. Oct. 9, at Duncan Township Hall in Sidnaw.

• 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10, at the Chassell Fire Hall in Chassell.

• 7 p.m. Oct. 17, at the Lake Linden High School Auditorium in Lake Linden.

• 7 p.m. Oct. 24, at the Houghton County Circuit Court room in Houghton.

• 7 p.m. Oct. 25, at the Franklin Township Hall.

Linda Belote, a member of the Copper Country League of Women Voters, presented a jail study prepared by the group. It held three public meetings and conducted a survey. It also spoke to people such as McLean and addition architect Karin Cooper, as well as county employees.

The League agrees the jail needs are “critical” due to overcrowding, while the 97th District Court also has many needs. In its report, however, the League asked the County Board to slow down the process and form a committee to study what type of facility and location residents will support.

Of 267 respondents to a League survey, 81 — about 30.34 percent — preferred building a combined courthouse, Sheriff’s Office and jail in a new location in the city. The county plan for the new addition received 38 votes or 14.23 percent. However, the League noted in the report that nothing prevented a person from completing the survey multiple times.

Summarizing the comments at the forums, the League said the most common, with 18 responses, was “need more long-term thinking for a comprehensive approach.”

Considering three options — support, oppose, or take no position — the League voted in August to stay neutral.

“Due to the complexity and the urgent need, we unanimously chose ‘take no position,'” Belote said. “We encourage voters, however, to become informed and vote their own educated decision.”

The League of Women Voters report is available at lwvccmi.org, or at the Portage Lake District Library.

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