Brown County regional jail project loses hope of state funding

Published: Mar. 3, 2023 at 4:54 PM CST
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ABERDEEN, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A decision in the House of Representatives this week has put extra pressure on an upcoming deadline in Brown County.

Senate Bill 155 would have allocated $40 million in revolving loans and $10 million in grants to a Jail Improvement and Construction Fund. The bill was introduced after a summer study showed the need for new funds to help overcrowded county jails.

“Basically, after the summer study and the task force that we put a lot of effort in over the summer with a variety of different meetings, that was basically the theme was there needs to be some new funding because everybody wants to keep property taxes down, but right now for counties, the only way to fund these things is through additional property taxes,” said Brown County Commissioner Mike Wiese.

Brown County was heavily relying on SB 155 to help fund a regional jail project, which could triple the amount of space for inmates not just in Brown County, but surrounding counties as well.

Last year, Brown County purchased a building in the Industrial District in Aberdeen for $4.5 million. The Brown County Commission created a self-imposed deadline to raise at least 40% of the funds for the $30 million project by April 1st, otherwise they would sell the building.

“The down payment is what we need on this. With enough capacity, it actually positively cash flows and would allow us to retire some of that debt. Getting the up-front money to do it is the difficult part of that,” said Wiese.

SB 155 passed swiftly on the Senate floor, but failed 54-14 in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

With the deadline approaching and state funds out of the picture, Brown County might have to consider selling the building.

“Selling it is a distinct possibility. The problem is it doesn’t make the problem go away. I believe we have a population that was 62 this morning, but our capacity is 48. So, it’s an ongoing, critical situation that needs to get addressed,” said Wiese.

Brown County Sheriff Dave Lunzman said the problem surrounding capacity is actually getting worse.

“What we’ve been seeing is more than enough inmates and not enough beds. That’s not just unique to Brown County, that’s surrounding areas. Even since we started this project, we’ve had more jails close in our region up here in the northeast. That’s increased the need for the number of beds. It’s not going away, it’s getting worse,” said Lunzman.

Lunzman believes the states should be offering more help to the counties.

”It is very disheartening because they have imposed more mandates on us, which brings more prisoners to the county level and making us house them, but yet they give us no funds or no means to do what they’ve asked us to do,” said Lunzman.

Soon, Lunzman fears the problem may result in counties spending more money.

”The other day, we had more than we normally had. I looked to move them. We couldn’t find anything in the state to take any of our prisoners. Pretty soon, it’s going to cost the county extreme amounts of money to transport them to other states. I truly hate to see our county money being spent in another state,” said Lunzman.

Wiese said that Brown County would like to avoid any bonds or opt-outs for the project. The county will look to other grant, loan and partnership opportunities to try and meet the funding deadline. Help from the state, however, would have been the best opportunity.

”I understand in the bigger picture, they’re looking at the state’s finances and the state has got a lot of needs and responsibilities, even though they’re in a pretty good financial situation right now. Some additional financial support really would have been a big help for us. So, I’m not surprised, but I’m very disappointed,” said Wiese.