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Pine County approves state bonding request for jail remodel, and more news

The Pine County Board approved a request to apply for state funding to remodel the Pine County Jail during a meeting on June 6.

Every two years, the Department of Corrections inspects the Pine County Jail to make sure it is meeting the requirements outlined by the State of Minnesota. Since it began operation in 2008, Jail Administrator Rod Williamson said that the facility's needs and those state requirements have changed.

"One of those requirements that we don't meet regularly, although we do get creative, is the separation of our inmates," Williamson said.

The way the jail is currently set up, one unit holds about 60 inmates that are overseen by corrections staff. However, within that unit, Williamson said those 60 inmates need to be divided up depending on their needs and classifications.

"When we read things like our jail can hold 131 people, that would be if everybody fit every classification and we had all those pieces, and we don't have that right now," said Williamson.

He went on to say that jail staff have been able to manage around the facility's shortcomings, but it is not a safe or healthy way to continually manage the jail in its current state.

Pine County worked with the Boarman Kroos Vogel Group (BKV) to conduct a jail study.

Along with the separation needs, the study identified the need to address issues with drugs and weapons being smuggled into the jail, an influx of drug-infused mail to inmates, and addressing the rising number of inmates experiencing mental health issues.

BKV originally suggested the need for an add-on to the jail to meet these needs with a $5 million price tag, but staff were able to pair that down to fit it within the current space.

"We don't feel that we need to add on," said Williamson. "We feel that we can really encompass what we need inside the existing footprint. We drew walls in there to get the needed separation. We feel that we can do it quite successfully within the current footprint. It saves taxpayer dollars, and it also provides the safety and security we need."

The remodel is anticipated to cost around $3 million to complete, and the county hopes the whole project will be covered by the State Capital Investment program.

If approved during the next legislative session, Williamson says the work would take about a year to complete construction after the bid and design process. The work would be done in phases in order to minimize disruptions within the building.

Isanti County Board picks new administrator

The Isanti County Board of Commissioners voted to offer the position of county administrator to Josi Wood during Tuesday’s meeting.

Wood currently serves as city administrator for Isanti. During her nearly-ten year tenure with the city, she’s also worked as Public Services Director and Parks, Recreation, and Culture Manager.

In 17 years working in the public sector, Wood has also held positions in Stearns County, Anoka County, and Maple Grove.

Commissioner Alan Duff said Wood is already a proven leader in the community.

"What stood out to me in particular for Josi Wood was her passion for public service," Duff said. "For someone like you said, Commissioner Berg, who smiles and says 'I'm in this because I have a lot of fun,' it's fun to see people with that kind of vibrancy.

The board voted unanimously.

Pine City Elementary project postponed

The Pine City School District says the planning process for the Elementary school project has been put on hold after the state legislature moved the review process up 30 days.

The district has been working for the last 6 months to assemble a plan to take to the public for a referendum in November.

With the timeline change, the district said they did not feel they could get it done right within the shorter time period and paused the process, and not go out for referendum this year.

The district will continue to work with its architecture firm, construction management company, and steering committee in the interim.

Isanti Fire District battles pair of blazes

The Isanti Fire District responded to a pair of structure fires early this week.

A blaze was reported in rural Isanti Township at about 11 p.m. Monday night. Responders requested mutual aid from the Cambridge Fire Department due to heavy fire conditions.

The occupants of the structure escaped without injury.

The structure was a total loss, and an adjacent RV was also destroyed in the fire. Its cause remains under investigation.

The Isanti Fire District also responded to a structure fire in rural Stanford Township on Tuesday evening. The barn suffered significant damage, but no injuries were reported.

The blaze is believed to have started from a nearby burning pile.

Photo from Isanti Fire District Facebook page

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