Houghton County, Portage Township in talks on potential jail site

HOUGHTON — Talks with Portage Township of annexing the potential site of a future county jail are progressing, Administrator Ben Larson said Tuesday.

The county is hoping to build a new complex on what is now the First Apostolic Lutheran Church property on the south side of Sharon Avenue, in Portage Township. The new building is expected to include the sheriff’s office, which is required by state law to be in the county seat, Houghton.

County officials talked with Portage Township board members on Friday to discuss a Public Act 425 arrangement which would allow the city of Houghton to effectively annex the 6-acre parcel.

“We had a very nice talk with them on Zoom, and they said they are willing to help us out,” Larson said. “They would like us to buy the property.”

The county board approved a purchase agreement with the church in April, but has not formally completed the sale, Larson said.

Portage Township board members said they would approve a PA 425 agreement later this month, Larson said. A permanent annexation would come if Houghton County voters approve a millage for the jail.

“If that doesn’t happen, they want it to stay in a 425 agreement, because what’s the guarantee to them that that won’t turn into something else?” he said.

A hard deadline had not been set, but one figure being discussed was nine years, Larson said.

Commissioner Glenn Anderson motioned for the board to complete the purchase by Oct. 22, Larson’s final day as administrator.

On Wednesday, the Houghton City Council passed a resolution backing the agreement in principle.

“In my opinion, it’s a good site for them to do that, as opposed to previous attempts to build a jail right in the middle of the city,” said City Manager Eric Waara.

The board also discussed the sale of two other county properties.

The City of Hancock has approached the county about purchasing the Houghton County Arena, Larson said. The county still holds a $430,000 debt on the property. The county is about to make an annual $40,000 payment, Larson said, which goes towards the locker room, ice plant

Commissioners recently held a special meeting to conduct a walkthrough of the arena.

“If we can have that debt remaining taken care of, perhaps there’s a chance for us to turn that into Hancock City Arena,” Larson said. “In my opinion, it would be a win for every county taxpayer.”

The Torch Lake Federal Credit Union, which rents space in a county-owned building in Laurium, might purchase the building. Houghton County’s ownership dates to when 911 service was handled locally, Vice Chairman Tom Tikkanen said.

Tikkanen, Larson and Commissioner Gretchen Janssen recently evaluated the building and met with credit union staff. The county’s sale offer of $435,000 is being considered by the credit union board, Tikkanen said.

“It is the intent to eventually, once we do strike a deal on a price, bring that to the full board for review, and hopefully return that property to the tax rolls, where it should be,” he said.


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