BURNETT COUNTY––Near the end of all committee meetings held at the Government Center is a spot on the agenda for announcing future items. There is usually one or two members who make a brief statement and then the meeting is adjourned.
At the public safety committee meeting last week, committee member Gene Olson suggested they talk about the size of the county jail and a need for expansion.
“This committee needs to start discussing the dispatch center and a bigger jail,” Olson said.
Olson then asked Burnett County Sheriff Ron Wilhelm how many inmates and beds the county jail has. He said they have about 50 inmates and only 26 beds.
“We’re (sending) the rest of them to Barron, Polk and possibly Washburn Counties,” Olson said.
County board chairman Don Taylor said, “The problem - as always - is how do we pay for it.”
Olson said with the current crime rate, does the county have a choice in terms of building a bigger jailing facility.
“The problem is we can’t raise taxes,” Taylor said.
Olson then suggested raising fees. He said he had to pay a fee when he gave up his CDL license and added there are fees for everything.
“When all is said and done, in most cases much more is said than actually gets done,” Olson said. “These officers (working as jailors/dispatchers) are putting their lives on the line every day.”
Wilhelm said he suggested a bigger facility at his first public safety meeting after he become Sheriff in 2015.
County Administrator Nate Ehalt said the county has been asking the state legislator to allow exemptions so they can raise fees, taxes and levy limits and the state has said no.
“We have asked before and failed to get their approval, but we will keep asking,” Ehalt said.
Ehalt added that most of the difficulty with building a new facility would be cost. Taylor suggested it would be about a million dollars. Ehalt also said that it also comes down to operational costs and staffing the facility.
“Well I’m saying we have to take this a lot more seriously,” Olson said. “We have to keep officers and their families safe.”