Murray County moves ahead cautiously on LECCommissioners want to ensure funds are available before constructing new facility
By: Justine Wettschreck, Worthington Daily Globe
SLAYTON — Like any job, being in law enforcement requires certain tools, such as a weapon, training, vehicles and personal protection. But in this day and age, it also requires computers, office space and an adequate facility — something the Murray County Sheriff’s Office does not have enough of.
An addition to the current Law Enforcement Center (LEC) is in the planning stages, but Murray County Commissioners are not prepared to jump into the project without checking out their budget first.
Dave Cihaski of Short Eliott Hendrickson met with county commissioners Tuesday to present proposed plans for the LEC expansion, giving them an estimated cost of $1.5 million for the entire project.
The plan is to expand the current LEC, adding office space and storage, which would more than double the square footage available now. Cihaski has been meeting with Murray County Sheriff Steve Telkamp and Chief Deputy Randy Donahue for about eight months to determine their needs and what can be done to meet them.
Commissioners, who have faced scrutiny because of a recent building spree in Murray County, were receptive to the idea, but hesitant to commit funds before taking a closer look at their budget. With a new human services building, a new grandstand, concession area and impound lot, Murray County has spent a considerable amount of money on building in 2007 and 2008.
Chairman Kevin Vickerman admitted the recent rash of spending on building was because of a lack of upkeep in past years, to the point that most of the buildings had gone beyond the point of being repairable.
“I’m in favor of this project,” Vickerman said, “but I would like to get my hands on and around the budget, which is a few months down the road.”
Cihaski said the project is at the point where he is simply waiting for permission from the board to proceed with construction documents and could be prepared for bidding as early as September. Commissioner Bob Moline commented the community needed a chance to be involved.
“It is time to let the public look at it,” he said.
An open house at the current LEC took place months ago, but few people attended to tour the facility.
“And it is hard to plan public tours,” Donahue explained, adding that the nature of the business at the LEC made planning ahead difficult. “It can involve shutting down public access in a hurry.”
The few who did tour the LEC were shocked at how small and inadequate it is, Donahue continued.
“We are truly at a point now that if we don’t move forward with this, we will have to go out and find office space,” he stated. “This probably should have been addressed years ago, so I would like to see it move ahead as soon as possible.”
Currently, the sheriff’s office has seven deputies working out of a 12-foot by 20-foot area, with a limited number of computers and desk space. When the drug task force also uses the facility, the space can get pretty cramped, Telkamp said.
It is not unusual to see deputies standing in line, waiting to use a computer, Telkamp added. Storage space for reports and evidence is extremely limited. Current case files are limited to four file cabinets.
In the sally port, boxes with old reports, case files and radio calls are stacked to the ceiling in some places. The evidence lockers are full. Because some cases can go on for years, the evidence must be kept until court procedures, and in some cases, appeal processes are finished.
The holding cell is also used for booking and is where the fingerprint machine is stored. The noise from the machine makes interviewing people a near impossibility, so many interviews are done in squad cars, Telkamp said.
It would take three months to prepare the documentation for the bid process, according to Cihaski, and construction could begin as soon as October.
“We could get the bulk of the new addition enclosed before the bad weather started, then work on inside constructions through the winter,” he explained.
The board opted to authorize the documentation process, but not to go ahead with bids at this point.
“Just because we have the documentation doesn’t mean we have to build it,” Moline said. “But when we are ready to bid, we can make a motion and go.”
Cihaski said he can get some pre-bid numbers, which would give them something more firm to go on than per-square-foot costs, which he estimates at $175.
The motion to prepare the documents was approved unanimously. An earlier plan to consider adding more cells was dismissed as non-feasible.