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Carlton County continues to pursue state funding for justice center

Officials had a proposal included in 2022's omnibus bill that failed to pass, but they are looking to try and secure funding for the project in 2023, as well.

FILE: Carlton County Transportation
The Carlton County Transportation Building.
Izabel Johnson / 2021 file / Pine Journal

CARLTON — County officials assured the county board that they are looking to secure funding from the state for the new justice center project during a meeting Monday, Jan. 23.

Commissioner Gary Peterson prompted the discussion at the end of the meeting to get an update from county staff.

Peterson wanted to know how the county was planning to get additional funding from the state Legislature this year, after lawmakers did not pass a bonding bill last year.

"We know that we are going to be short on this justice center out here, and ... where are we at on a strategy to get some of this money that is in a huge surplus?" he asked.

County voters approved a local option sales tax in November for the county to collect and finance $60 million for the justice center.

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That leaves officials short $5.8 million of the county's $65.8 million guaranteed maximum price for the construction of the project, as well as finding a way to finance an estimated $9 million in soft costs.

Officials had a proposal to secure $22.5 million for the project included in the state's omnibus bonding bill last year, but the bill was not passed by the Legislature.

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Mary Finnegan, the county's economic development director, said "all the wheels are in motion" and the proposal for this year will be the same as last year when it comes to the amount of funding requested.

Finnegan said she has been working with newly-elected Rep. Jeff Dotseth, R-Kettle River, and Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City to bring a formal bill forward.

Should the board want to change the amount request, Finnegan said they would be able to add an amendment when a hearing is scheduled.

County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said he was confident about the county's proposal as last year he was told the measure was much more concise and prepared compared to other counties that sought funding.

"It was well presented last year ... between everyone else involved it will be well presented this year," he said.

This time around, county staff are looking to identify who they need to talk to on the different committees.

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"To get as much of an advantage as possible," Genereau said. "To make sure they understand what we are asking for and why we need (it)."

Paul Coughlin, the county's jail administrator, also shared that officials have spoken to the state about the current jail's sunset letter, which is for July 2023, and has received assurances that the county will receive an extension.

No formal extension has been given yet, Coughlin said, but with the county moving forward with construction of the justice center, it is likely to be approved.

"We have asked for it, been told that it is in the process, just waiting on the letter from the commissioner," he said.

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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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