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Carlton County Board focuses on inflation, justice center costs

During a special committee of the whole meeting, county board members had questions about how inflation could affect the estimated $77 million project.

FILE: Carlton County Transportation
The Carlton County Transportation Building.
Izabel Johnson / 2021 file / Pine Journal
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CARLTON — With inflation driving up prices, Carlton County's justice center project could be faced with rising costs.

Carlton County Commissioner Gary Peterson asked how inflation would affect the project during a special committee of the while meeting Monday, May 16.

Jail administrator Paul Coughlin said officials have been working with reputable architects and the issue, while present, should not severely impact the project. Costs are estimated to be around $77 million for the new facility.

When estimating pricing and construction costs, Adolfson & Peterson, the construction manager, made estimates with inflation in mind at a rate of 15%, Coughlin said.

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"That is what they were seeing as a trend as 2021 came across," he said. "Their pricing (for the project) isn't in today's dollars it is in midpoint construction, which is 2023 dollars."

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The county's agreement with its architectural firm is also a "manager at-risk," which helps the county as well. Coughlin said this means if the project ultimately costs more than the maximum cost presented to the county board in July, the construction manager is responsible for the excess cost, not the county.

In other updates from the meeting, the county has yet to get any resolution on the $22.5 million in bonding dollars it asked for from the state.

Mary Finnegan, the county's economic development director, said from the conversations she has had in the past week, the county will get an answer by Monday, May 23.

Coughlin added that other counties are asking for funding for similar projects; however, Carlton County is asking for funding to assist with the programs it hopes the justice center will be able to offer. The programs include the Justice Involved Females Program and the Building, Benchmarks and Beyond state sustainability guidelines it is following for the project.

Coughlin also updated the board on the county's contract with SWIM Creative, a marketing agency, on creating educational material about the project and the local action sales tax vote in November.

While the county is not able to push for a vote either way on the sales tax, Coughlin said the information will explain what would happen if the measure passes and what would happen if it fails.

"We want to make people understand what it means for a yes vote (or) no vote," he said.

Coughlin wants to ensure the community knows the vote is not like a school referendum—should it fail the project would not go away as the county already has a sunset letter on its current jail from the state.

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"We can certainly do public education to make them understand there is a fiscal impact to their property taxes if you vote no," he said. "If you vote yes, you are shifting a lot of the costs to local action sales tax."

Peterson also asked if a non-vote would register as a no vote.

County auditor Kevin DeVreindt said a non-vote on the question would not be considered a no vote.

Commissioner Mark Thell brought up the point that if they county sends out informational mailers they need to be sent before people who vote with mail-in ballots receive their ballots.

"A lot of the rural districts, when they have mail-in ballots, when they get their ballots they check it off," he said.

Coughlin said finalizing the question with the Minnestoa Secretary of State is a top priority, but they are waiting on the response from the Legislature before they do.

Working with the agency, officials also plan to use a drone to take pictures once a week when construction gets underway to show the public the scale of the project. Coughlin said anyone will be able to access the pictures, and the photos will be used to create a time lapse of the project once it is completed.

"So every week we will be able to update the picture of what the drone can see so people can track the progress of the project," he said.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICSCARLTON COUNTYCARLTON COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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