Jail site rejectedA fractured Douglas County Board is unable to agree on a new jail site.
By: Erin Klegstad, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
A fractured Douglas County Board is unable to agree on a new jail site.
On Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to reject the site recommended by the Douglas County Criminal Justice Committee (DCCJDC). After two years of examination, the committee had recommended an 80-acre site just west of Alexandria city limits for purchase. The site had consistently ranked the highest on the matrix, a scoring system that looks at site topography, utilities, ecology, acquisition, access and area.
The disagreement, however, doesn’t mean the issue is “dead in the water,” said Commissioner John Mingus. “Absolutely not,” agreed Paul Anderson, board chair.
It simply means the recommended site – owned by Arnold and Violet Backhaus and located at Nevada Street and Highway 27 West – will not be the location for a future jail.
Although the board agrees something must be done to improve the county’s current jail and law enforcement center, it is divided as to exactly what that is.
Ideas range from building a brand-new jail facility at a green site, such as at the Backhaus property, to expanding and remodeling the current downtown jail and law enforcement center.
At the beginning of the discussion, Mingus asked the board to consider laying over its decision on the property until November 22. He had received new information regarding an additional piece of property he thought should be considered prior to making a decision.
“It’s prudent to do this to make sure we make a sound decision,” Mingus said.
The board denied Mingus’ request with a 3-2 vote.
With that, Commissioner Jerry Johnson motioned to not accept the site committee’s recommendation to purchase the Backhaus property. Commissioner Bev Bales seconded the motion.
“We need to move forward and quit band-aiding our projects,” argued Commissioner Dan Olson. “For over two years, we have worked our tails off on this. If they [the site committee] thought this was not a good piece of property, they would not have recommended it.”
Mingus again stressed that it was important to “take a good look at” the other property. “Unfortunately, it came at this time,” he said.
Bales answered that by not approving the committee’s recommendation, other options could be explored. “I think we can do better,” she said. “I certainly haven’t given up on the site across the street [the current downtown location]. We have to have someone look at it.”
Anderson said, “I am totally opposed to building at the present site.”
The motion to not accept the committee’s recommendation then passed, with Anderson, Bales and Johnson voting for it.
“We need to move forward, whether it’s one property or another,” Mingus concluded. “It needs to be done for safety reasons. We need to take care of the prisoners, and we need to take care of those folks that work there.”