The Burnett County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to borrow up to $27-million for the construction of a new public safety facility, after a brief discussion and presentation by County Administrator Nate Ehalt at their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, Aug. 19.

“The agenda is short, but very important,” Burnett County board chair Don Taylor said. 

The public safety facility issue is currently being studied and planned for by a sub-committee, as they look into other facilities across the state and region, to best decided what features, capacities, layouts and schematics and the like they should consider in the final design plans.

“(The resolution) is required because were contemplating building a jail facility,” Taylor said. “That we’re still several months from approving … I think.”

County administrator Nate Ehalt outlined the process of the jail financing, and the questions that remain, including whether to borrow the money outright from a bank or whether to issue general obligation (G.O.) bonds to cover the bulk of the cost of the project, which would require the county to go through a bonding review process, that would link G.O. bond percentage rates on the county’s credit rating. Taylor and Ehalt believe the county would likely have quite a high rating, possibly an AA+.

“That’s because we manage our money well,” Taylor stated, noting the relatively small amount of county debt, $4.4-million, versus their ability to borrow, under state formulas linking equalized values to debt capacity, which allows up to $146-million.

Ehalt said he expects the jail project to cost closer to $30-million, but believes through some streamlining of needs and efficiencies, as well as using things like American Rescue Plan  funding, and cash on hand, they can limit their borrowing to the $27-to-$27.5-million, or so.

Ehalt believed the resolution allows the county to actively pursue the details and design needs of the project prior to actual full approval and project plans, ground breaking and materials purchase.

“(Approval of the resolution) does not lock us into the project,” Ehalt assured, adding that having the process approved now allows the board to better consider the merits of final bonding or borrowing questions, and to see if the proposal has the full support of the board, as bonding would require a ‘super majority,’ or two-thirds of the boards’ support to pass.

“That would keep us from having to go to referendum,” Ehalt added, noting that such a process would require many months of extra time, as it would need to coincide with a general election. 

He and Taylor also both mentioned the need to have financing in place, up to 20 years, as they start the process, allowing them to adjust the final jail project costs and scope to meet the approved financing limits. 

“Once they get to that point, it’s important (that the board supports the financing),” Taylor said, as the resolution passed unanimously.

In other county board business:   

• The board held a lengthy discussion on a proposed resolution to open a previously closed portion of  Burnett County Road A in the Town of Jackson to ATV/UTV traffic, although several supervisors suggested that riders have already been using that part of the roadway for access to a tavern.

The request is coming from the Town of Jackson, which is unusual, but it noted that the road was previously open to ATVs, but was closed due to traffic count estimates being too high to allow.

However, Burnett County highway commissioner Mike Hoefs said they have gone over the traffic counts and they are significantly lower than thought, even when there are more tourists in the region.

“Even on the busiest days, it’s not over 1,000 (cars per day),” Commissioner Hoefs said, noting that previous estimates were over 1,000 cars daily.

But the same traffic study also noted that the traffic was driving significantly faster than the posted speed limit, which raised different concerns and led to ancillary issues.