Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, February 22, 1999

McLeod courthouse plans enter next phase

The renovation of the McLeod County Courthouse is on time and on budget, the McLeod County Board of Commissioners was told Tuesday.

The planning of the courthouse renovation is at phase III: using the existing building to meet the needs of the court and safety concerns.

Michael Cox, president of Wold Architects and Engineers presented the final layout of the lower, main and upper floors.

The project, which has a budget of $2.5 million, extensively redesigns the interior of the courthouse.

A strong focus of the redesign was courtroom safety. Cox pointed out on his design of the upper floor, steps taken to have a secure method of moving prisoners to the courtroom, but away from the general public.

Besides two court rooms, the upper floor will contain the law library, conference and jury deliberation rooms, holding rooms for prisoners and court services offices.

The main floor of the courthouse will contain a court room, judges' chambers, court administration and county offices, except for the license bureau which will be moved to the north complex.

Moving the county board room to the lower level was met with dissatisfaction by members of the long-range planning commission and board member Melvin Dose. The board discussed with the long-range planning commission those quarters are intended to be temporary, and a need in the future for an administration building.

Board Chairman Sheldon Nies concurred with Dose in that although the location was not ideal, it was the best to be had for now.

Monica Hartsberg of the Wold company went over with the board the planned decor of the renovated courthouse. She said the company has taken its cues from the old building and will blend in the new renovations with it.

Hartsberg said the company is trying to keep the entire project cost-effective by reusing items already in the building.

Included in the $2.5 million price tag is redesign work and purchase of items needed to make the north complex office building more efficient. According to Wold, using Steelcase furniture that will match the existing furniture, and using their suggested floor plan, will increase efficiency and end confusion.

Jail staffing

Sheriff Wayne Vinkemeyer, jail administrator Bonnie Case and chief deputy Mark Taylor presented to the board their request for additional staff.

Case requested two additional correctional officers. Taylor wants to hire one full-time deputy.

The need for additional staff arises from the cost in overtime, the department being short of staff, the low retention of correctional officers and deputys/bailiffs and state mandates that stretch staff resources.

Case said last year overtime costs were $57,617 for 3,582 hours. Some reasons for the cost included union contract items. Employees are paid straight time plus time and a half for working holidays, hours over eight hours are overtime, hours worked over 2080 in a year are overtime as are hours worked over 40 hours in a week.

Case talked about the long hours staff has had to work because there are not enough people to cover the shifts. In 1998 approximately 145 overtime shifts were scheduled due to staff shortages.

Also taking more time is the mandate that well-being checks on the prisoners must be done every half hour. Suicide watches are done every 15 minutes. This takes time from the officers to do other needed duties. Transports of prisoners often go over eight hours, Case said, and staff shortages have forced officers to work 12 to 16 hour days to comply with court orders.

"Overtime is burning out the staff, causing turnover," Case said.

Case also noted that Hutchinson will be closing its lockup when that city's and the county's dispatches combine, putting an additional caseload on the county as those offenders will be sent to Glencoe. Last year Hutchinson booked 149 people.

Adding a second judge has also contributed to the staff shortage. Now two people, instead of one, are needed to escort prisoners to the courtrooms.

Case said the gross cost for the two positions would be $54,870, but from this could be deducted $10,161 already approved for a half-time officer and $18,680 in overtime costs, bringing the net cost to $26,029.

Taylor cited the constant turnover, the difficulty in scheduling part-time officers and continually training part-time bailiffs as his reasons for requesting a full-time deputy.

Taylor said most of the part-time deputies are full-time officers at other agencies. This makes it difficult to fit in part-time shifts into a full-time schedule. Additionally, five part-time officers have left in recent months, leaving a pool of six.

Cost for an additional full-time deputy would be $38,935.

The board agreed to look at how the request would affect the budget and give the department an answer at the March 2 meeting.

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