Officials update Clay County Board

Bryce Haugen
brycevincenthaugen@gmail.com

The leaders of the sheriff’s office and the correctional facility, along with the emergency management director and the county engineer offered annual updates to the Clay County Board of Commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday, March 5.

Sheriff’s office
Sheriff Mark Empting, who took over for long-time Sheriff Bill Bergquist in January, explained what his department had been up to in 2018 and what it expected to do in the coming year.
“(2018) started off to be a challenging year for us,” Empting said, noting there were two officer-involved shootings. “With those, we stayed rather busy in the spring.”
There were several retirements, prompting searches for replacement deputies.
“We lost a lot of experience,” Empting said.
For much of the year, he said, the sheriff’s office was understaffed, which presented challenges. But deputies pitched in to help with the shortage.
“The services provided to the Clay County community did not change,” Empting said.
There was a missing person report in Hitterdal last year that turned into a homicide investigation that is still ongoing.
And in July, the sheriff’s office moved into a brand new law enforcement center.
“As you’re all aware,” Empting told the board, “this was a much-needed facility. We were fortunate to work closely with the Moorhead Police Department to see that this facility will meet the needs of both the sheriff’s office and the Moorhead Police Department ,,, It leaves room for future growth for both of our agencies as well. We truly appreciate the collaboration that went into the Law Enforcement Center.”

County jail
During her presentation, Julie Savat, the correctional facility administrator, talked about what was a very busy year for her department, with Phase I of the new jail completed in the fall and with the ongoing Phase II of that extensive project.
Phase II, Savat said, should be completed by October and it will include kitchen and laundry facilities as well as office space.
“We’re pretty excited to be moving in,” she said.
For the first time in nearly a year, as of this week, the jail is fully staffed, Savat said.
The facility is currently housing a few inmates from Otter Tail County and the U.S. Marshalls.
The average daily population of the jail in 2018 was 130.24. Right now, there are 109 inmates, though Savat expects that number to increase over the next several months.
Clay County Jail Ministries continues to provide services.
“It’s a great benefit to the community, to the inmates,” Savat said. “We can’t thank them enough.”
The new 18-bed behavioral health unit in the jail has been a success, she said. Since October, Lakeland Mental Health has served 125 inmates in that unit and elsewhere in the jail.
In March, a full-time reentry officer will begin work at the jail, helping inmates with housing, finances and other matters that will help them reintegrate into society.
“It’s really to reduce recidivism,” Savat said. “We’re pretty excited about getting that up and running.”
Emergency management
Gabe Tweten, the recently appointed Clay County Emergency Management director, explained what he’s been doing during his first couple months on the job and how he’s preparing for any potential emergencies in 2019.
Tweten was the incident commander during last month’s natural gas leak in south Moorhead.
“That was a great learning experience,” he said. “It was a pretty controlled emergency.”
The department is currently updating its five-year hazard mitigation plan, working with a consulting firm and the University of MInnesota-Duluth.
It’s also making preparations for a possible spring flood.
“Hopefully, we’re going to dodge a bullet and it’s not going to be a total baptism by fire,” Tweten said. “… We’re having some initial meetings so we are prepared. We’re lining up resources in the event we need them.”
In May, there will be a train derailment/hazardous chemical spill exercise in Hawley to make sure the department is prepared for such a disaster.

Highway department
The highway department currently has 31 full-time employees, along with 11 part-time and seasonal workers, county engineer David Overbo informed the board during his presentation.
He’s looking to hire six additional seasonal employees, including two seasonal maintenance workers and two part-time mowing operators.
The 2019 budget doesn’t represent much of an increase from last year, Overbo said, but there is more state funding from user fees and the gas tax.
“It’s safe to say construction prices are on the rise,” he said, noting labor, steel and fuel prices have all increased.
The winter has taken its toll on the highway department, Overbo said. In one day, he said, there can be $5,000 in diesel expenses alone. And he’s paid out more in overtime than in the past several years.
“The past two months have been challenging keeping up with the snow and the wind,” he said. “… We’re crossing our fingers for good weather in March and April.”
There aren’t very many projects slated for 2019. Some highlights of the construction schedule include refurbishing 12th Avenue in Glyndon, 15th Avenue in Oakport Township, two bridges (in Morken and Elmwood townships) and some improvements on the Law Enforcement Center campus.
The department also has around $2 million in requests for state bonding money, mainly to replace old culverts. Those projects require legislative approval.

In other business, the board:
Approved a request to fill a vacancy in the office manager/appraiser position in the Assessor’s Office.
Signed off on a request to hire a full-time licensed alcohol and drug counselor in the public health department.
Voted to replace a 1994 International Semi-Tractor for the county highway department.

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