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2 officers needed before move-in to new jail

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Alpena County Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski does some documentation at work today.

ALPENA — The construction of the new Alpena County Jail is nearly finished, but it will likely be months before inmates and corrections staff move to the new facility.

County Sheriff Steve Kieslizewski said last month deputies and employees would likely move in once the building is complete, which could be sometime in February.

At today’s meeting of the county board’s Finance Committee, Jail Administrator Scott Gagnon asked permission to hire a pair of correction officers to bolster staff.

If they are not hired, Gagnon said, a move to the new jail — funded by a 1-mill property tax that costs the owner of a $100,000 house about $50 a year — cannot take place.

If new employees are hired, a 16-week training period for those new hires would push the possible move-in date well into May, at the earliest, if employees are hired before the end of the month.

Gagnon added that the timeframe could be shortened, depending on the level of experience new hires may have.

That seems unlikely, as county commissioners aren’t expected to address the issue again until next week. If the hiring is approved, Gagnon said, the hiring process of interviews, background checks, and psychological exams could take as much as a month.

The request for new employees comes after consultant Rod Miller issued a staffing recommendation required by the state. His recommendation had not yet been approved by the Michigan Department of Corrections.

“I need additional staff hired and trained prior to moving into the new facility,” Gagnon said. “If we don’t have the ability to hire new staff, we either have to wait to move in, or force overtime on the officers we have. If we forced them to work every day, it would create a lot of burnout.”

Two corrections officers were hired late last year, but two more are needed, just to be able to run the three-shift schedule, Gagnon said.

“That would still only be running it bare-bones,” he said.

When the property tax proposal to build the new jail passed in 2017, voters were told the remaining funds after repaying bond debt would be enough to cover additional staffing.

Now, estimates show there will not be enough to do so, which means the county will have to pay at least a portion out of pocket. How much the new hires would cost and where the money will come from is yet to be determined.

After being pressed by the committee, Gagnon estimated compensation for a new corrections officer could be about $75,000, including benefits.

County Treasurer Kim Ludlow said that, after the bond payments are made, only about $125,000 is left each year, which doesn’t cover the cost of the employees or any overruns or emergency bills for the jail.

“We will get that amount for 17 more years, and then the levy goes away, and there is no more money for anything,” she said.

The county is already facing a budget shortfall of about $1 million at the end of the current budget year, which ends on Dec.31.

During the budget process in 2020, commissioners initiated a hiring and spending freeze to help rein in expenses.

Although the construction phase is nearing completion, Gagnon said, plans and procedures for the new jail are still being created. Before moving in, everything at the new jail will need to be tested to make sure things are operating properly and officials have time to fix any bugs.

Gagnon was told to bring back projected cost totals and find funding options to present to commissioners when they meet Tuesday.

The board could take action on what steps need to be taken then.

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