The progress of the Carlton County jail project has slowed down due to the arrival of the pandemic earlier in the year, but officials are working on what they can, said Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau.

The only part of the jail project that is still moving forward at this time is the design process. Independent consultant Mike Griebel was hired by the county earlier this year to provide several jail design options. Once the designs are completed, officials will decide what is the best option to meet the needs of the county, said Genereau.

Griebel previously hired McGough Construction as the general manager of the project for a maximum price of $10,000, Genereau said. He said that McGough asked permission to hire Klein McCarthy Architects as a subcontractor for an additional $10,000. The project will be capped at $20,000. Genereau said Griebel should have the designs ready to present to the board by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021.

The county is under pressure to find a solution because of the sunset date, Genereau said.

According to a letter sent earlier this year from the Department of Corrections, inmates cannot be housed at the jail after July 31, 2023. The DOC listed many issues with the deteriorating 40-year-old building. County officials have been working hard to find the best solution, Genereau said.

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The jail steering committee had been making headway in the spring, before the pandemic.

In March, several members of the jail steering committee went in front of the Minnesota House of Representatives Tax Committee. County representatives asked for the Tax Committee’s permission to pursue a referendum that would ask county residents if they want to pay for a new jail facility through local option sales taxes or property taxes.

The jail steering committee members were scheduled to testify in front of the Minnesota Senate to get language in the state tax bill the week the state shut down. Due to the shut down, that portion of the project is on hold, said Genereau.

If the bill does not pass this year, Genereau said the county will need to bring it to lawmakers again in 2021.

The Carlton County Board of Commissioners approved the resolution 4-1 to hire Klein McCarthy Architects during their regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 8. District 4 Commissioner Mark Thell was the lone dissenting vote.

Thell said he knows that the county needs a jail, but he is concerned that there is a continuous cycle of spending and then asking for more money.

"We've been going down this rabbit hole with the jail study," Thell said. "How much studying do we want to do? ... It's not where I want to be at this time."