Wright Co. government center visitors will have to pass through security checkpoints

March 10, 2008

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

Anyone entering the Wright County government center through the main entrances will soon have to pass through metal detectors staffed by armed guards.

On a split vote, the Wright County Board approved a request from the sheriff’s department for adding a full-time position in addition to the eight courthouse security posts that were included in the 2008 budget.

The request was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Board Chair Elmer Eichelberg and commissioners Jack Russek, Karla Heeter, and Dick Mattson in favor, and Commissioner Pat Sawatzke opposed.

Sawatzke said that, based on a survey conducted by county staff at his request, Wright County was unaware of any other county that has metal detectors at the entrance to its government center.

Heeter said the move will make Wright County a leader in providing security for its government center employees and visitors.

Sawatzke replied that it will make Wright County a leader in wasting money.

Russek said he has felt uncomfortable in the government center.

Mattson mentioned a news story about city council members who were shot in Missouri, and said he did not want anything like that to happen in Wright County.

Sawatzke said the process to implement the check points began “under false pretenses” a couple of years ago based on an article in the paper that said Stearns County planned to implement similar changes. That story turned out to be false, Sawatzke said.

Currently, the county employs six bailiffs (one assigned to each courtroom) and two full-time armed positions for courthouse security.

Only during peak hours will all three positions be utilized for screening. During off-peak hours, the third person will be used to transport prisoners from jail to court, according to minutes from the committee-of-the-whole.

Sawatzke also raised a concern about those who would access the building without passing through the main entrances.

“If employees are going to be able to come in using their pass cards through other entrances, who is going to check them? When you hear about these incidents, more often than not, it is employees, not outside people, who are involved.” Sawatzke said.

“I’m not sure what this is accomplishing, but I know it will be expensive,” he added.

Overlay contract awarded

The board awarded the contract for the 2008 overlay project to Hardrives for a low bid of $2,677,893. It did not identify a source of funds to make up the shortfall between the bid and the budget for the project, which could be as much as $73,000.

County Engineer Wayne Fingalson said the shortfall could be close to zero by the time the project is complete, but he won’t know that until the project is done.

The board expressed reluctance to award the contract without knowing where the money will come from, but in the end, agreed to move forward.

“We have to award the contract. It (the price) is not going to get any better,” Russek said.

Intersection policy upheld

The board upheld the county policy that requires cities to pay half of the cost of construction of intersections within city limits.

The City of Delano objected when it was required to pay half of the cost of reconstruction for the intersection of Highway 12 and Wright County Road 30, because neither are city streets. The city portion of the cost was about $42,000, according to Fingalson.

The city asked the county to change the policy, but the county found there was not enough basis to change the policy, which has been in place since the early 1980s. The county said changing the policy would be unfair to the other cities that have paid their share of intersection costs in the past.

Fingalson said the Wright County policy is the same as the policy in Anoka County.

Grant application OK’d

The board authorized Fingalson to apply for a $10,000 Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) grant.

Fingalson said there is a problem with a curve on CSAH 37 near Albertville.

There is a city street in line with CSAH 37 before it curves, and there have been accidents, including one fatality, when motorists have run off of the curve.

Fingalson said the grant would cover the cost of an $8,000 system to provide a dynamic sign that would be placed on one of the chevron signs leading into the curve. Fingalson said the sign would alert motorists if they are exceeding the recommended speed when they are entering the curve.

“When do we have to put automatic drivers in the cars?” Russek quipped. “We keep putting up signs, and they don’t heed them.”

“First, we need to make sure they belong here, and can read the signs,” Sawatzke commented.

The board authorized Fingalson to proceed with the grant application, because there will be no cost to the county.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• cancelled the Tuesday, April 8 board meeting due to five Tuesdays in the month.

• agreed to pay a $2,525 claim from the Animal Humane Society of Golden Valley.

The claim was to reimburse the humane society for costs incurred as the result of seizing and caring for two bison calves from a farm near Delano.

The animals were seized after a warrant was issued by the court.

A hearing took place Dec. 19, and the court ordered that the animals not be returned to owner Daniel Tapio.

Chief Deputy Attorney Brian Asleson said that by statute, the county is responsible for the cost of caring for the animals.

The board expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of the bill.

“The cost is outrageous. I would have taken them for half of that,” Heeter said.

The animals were transported to a bison farm in Morton, and the board indicated that local options may have been more appropriate and less expensive.

The board approved the payment, but asked that the next time a situation like this comes up, the county be notified earlier in the process so it can participate in the decision making process.

The county’s budget for animal impounding is $2,500, and this has already been paid out, according to Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala.

Heeter said the board will need to review this line item when it considers the 2009 budget.

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