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Commissioners mull corrections staffing concerns

By Staff | Aug 14, 2021

Pierce County commissioners reviewed law enforcement and budget matters at their regular monthly meeting, held Aug. 3 at the Pierce County Courthouse.

Commissioners listened as Pierce County Sheriff Josh Siegler gave a report on calls his department responded to in July. Siegler said the department responded to 55 total calls, including six fire calls, two traffic collisions, two prisoner transports and 17 calls to assist other agencies. Deputies made 11 arrests, issued 15 citations, served 14 court papers and seven warrants.

Mike Graner, administrator at Heart of America Correctional and Treatment Center, presented a report on the jail population for July and discussed staff recruitment issues with the board.

Graner said the facility’s inmate population averaged 85 during the month, with a high of 95. As of Aug. 1, 90 inmates were housed in the facility. The facility booked 63 inmates in July and released 61. Seventeen inmates at the jail were from Pierce County.

Graner told the board HACTC saw a $54,748.65 profit for the month of June. Graner also told the board 20 of 24 personnel slots were filled at the facility. Graner said one correctional officer had resigned, one was on military leave and two were on medical leave.

The board heard results of an audit of compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA. A statement by Pierce County Auditor Karin Fursather said, “The facility received lots of compliments and no compliance issues were found.”

Graner also updated the board on an opening for a correctional officer at the facility. Graner said the facility posted the opening eight weeks ago and had received just six applications. One applicant had been hired. Graner added he had informally surveyed counties in eastern North Dakota and found their correctional facilities were also experiencing staff shortages. The counties each paid higher wages to their officers as well.

Fursather said in a written statement, “Eleven other ‘correctional officer’ jobs are currently posted on indeed.com, with HACTC being the lowest paying. In 2018 starting wage (for HACTC) was $15.92, representing a 1.3 percent increase over 4 years.”

“The proposed increase is a projected $88,208.86 salary increase for the 2022 budget year,” Fursather added.

After hearing a request by Graner to raise correctional officer pay, the board voted 4-1 to increase the starting wage 11 percent to $18.00 per hour from the current $16.13 rate. Commissioners Migler, Terry Hoffert, Mike Brossart and Ashley Berg voted “aye,” while Commissioner Mike Christenson voted “nay.”

Board Chair Dave Migler signed a contract renewing a lease of office space in the county law enforcement center to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

In other business, the board reviewed and approved six abatement applications for Pierce County properties.

The board also reviewed information submitted by BNSF Railroad, who reported repairs would begin in September on their crossing in Barton.

The board also reviewed and approved payment to the Balta Wildlife Club for an electrical hookup site at the Balta Dam.

Commissioners also heard an update on a construction project on the Selz Road three miles east to the Benson County line and nine miles west from ND Highway 3.

The board also approved a bid for sidewalk repairs on the courthouse property submitted by Rick Larson.

The board tabled a bid submitted by Mayo Construction Company for repairs on the courthouse parking lot.

County residents Lydell Selensky and Todd Hageness joined the meeting to discuss repairs needed to a road in Tofte Township located on 68th St NE & 38 Ave NE. Selensky and Hageness noted the road is a school bus route.

Brossart said that he had received an estimate from Ritterman Trucking to repair the road at a cost of more than $300,000. Brossart said Tofte Township does not have the funds to repair the road, however, should money come available in the future, the commission would consider making repairs on the road.

The board also voted to rescind a motion to add Juneteenth as a county holiday, citing the fact the state acknowledges the holiday but does not include it as an official state holiday.

The Pierce County Board of Commissioners will hold their next regular meeting Sept. 7 at 8 a.m. in the Pierce County Courthouse.

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