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Houghton County to consider alternate sites for jail

HOUGHTON — Houghton County will continue to look for alternate sites for a new county jail, Commissioner Roy Britz said at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

The owner of property on Evergreen Drive in Houghton identified as a potential location for a jail is asking the county to pay the mortgage on the property until a jail millage comes up for a vote, Britz said. The county has been negotiating with the land owner for an option on up to 10 acres of the 23-acre site.

If the measure passed, the owner would put the mortgage payments towards the purchase price, Britz said.

“It’s a long shot to ask for that, because we don’t know when we’re going to go for a jail,” he said. “It might be two years, with the COVID issues.”

The owner promised to keep the county posted on other potential offers for the property, Britz said.

Another option under consideration is county-owned land on Dodge Street across the street from the current courthouse.

After a meeting with a federal Economic Development Association representative, it was determined the county did not qualify for any grants from the 2018 flood that could be put toward a new jail, Britz said.

The county has made numerous attempts to fund a replacement for the nearly 60-year-old jail, most recently an addition behind the courthouse that was narrowly defeated in 2018.

Commissioner Glenn Anderson suggested the board look at an installment loan contract to purchase the property up front and pay it off over several years. Otherwise, he said, the county could be stuck pursuing a new jail in a less convenient location.

“The market in Houghton and the surrounding areas continues to be fairly robust,” he said. “To me, if we don’t lock up a parcel sometime in the next few years, we will be really limiting the future county boards to make decisions on building.”

Britz and Commissioner Gretchen Janssen, who also sits on the jail committee, agreed the idea was worth looking into.

“So many (county facilities) are required to be in city limits,” Britz said. “City property is just really hard to come by.”

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