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Inmate work program could aid in construction of new Nobles County Library

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WORTHINGTON -- In one of the briefest meetings in recent months, Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday had a short list of agenda items to work through, primarily approving contract renewals and paying for ongoing maintenance upgrades.

Yet, with three new commissioners and Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson seated for his first board meeting, there was some discussion on routine action items. Such was the case with the county's joint powers agreement with the state Department of Corrections to house inmates participating in the Institution Community Work Crew House Building Program, a vocational project aimed at teaching inmates a trade.

Sheriff Kent Wilkening said the county has had a contract with the state for the program for about five years. In that time, the inmates in the program helped with the construction of the Unity House, and are now working with contracts on the interior work of the new Southwestern Mental Health Center offices in Worthington.

"They've done a very good job in the projects they've worked on," Wilkening said, adding that the county gets paid $55 per inmate per day from the state for housing the inmates in Prairie Justice Center.

"Is there any potential that inmates could work on a new library?" asked board chairman Bob Demuth Jr.

"I don't see why they couldn't," responded Wilkening, adding that he would have to check with the state to see if there were specific requirements.

"It's free labor and we're getting $55 a day," Demuth added.

"The comments I've heard is it's a very beneficial project for these inmates," Commissioner Marv Zylstra said. "It's not for all of them ... but it's a great program. Any way we can utilize them more, I think we need to keep the program going."

The new joint powers agreement with the state will continue the contract from July 1 through June 30, 2015.

In other action, the board:

l Recognized Chief Deputy Auditor-Treasurer Kris Ray as the latest Excellence in Performance award winner. Nominated by members of the county's management team, Ray was selected for performing her job with "accuracy, efficiency and a sense of humor."

"When she has payroll that encompasses at least two different pay rates for every employee, plus overtime that we are including from a previous payroll, and new tax rates, I feel confident that Kris has everything correct," wrote the anonymous nominator. "Her month-end reports are always timely despite the additional burden of election and property tax receipts.

l Approved payment of $11,036.61 to Thompson Electric Co. for electrical upgrades at Prairie Justice Center.

l Approved the annual $2,500 appropriation to Manna Food Pantry.

l Accepted a $1,596 boat and water grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for safety patrol and enforcement on Nobles County lakes this summer. The sheriff's department will again keep its boat on Lake Okabena in Worthington, and will use the jet-ski it acquired last year for patrols on East and West Graham lakes.

l Approved out-of-state air travel for a Nobles County deputy to fly to Kentucky to train for a couple of days with the new K-9. The police dog is expected to be ready to work for the department in June. Wilkening said fundraisers were conducted for the new K-9, and there is enough money in the account to cover air travel and hotel for the deputy.

l Approved a resolution supporting Southwestern Minnesota Opportunity Council, in conjunction with Western Community Action, to provide homelessness assistance programming in Nobles County. Paula Boehrs of SMOC said the agency has assisted 142 individuals in the 18 months since the program began in Nobles, Rock, Pipestone and Murray counties.

l Set Association of Minnesota Counties policy appointments for the year. Commissioner Donald Linssen will serve on the public safety committee; Marv Zylstra on the environment and natural resources committee; Gene Metz on the transportation committee; Bob Demuth Jr. on the health and human services committee and Matt Widboom on the general government committee. Delegates were also selected, including Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson and Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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