County approves law enforcement lease

by April Scheinoha

The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and Thief River Falls Police Department will continue to be housed in the same building for at least the next three years. Pennington County commissioners have approved a three-year law enforcement lease and dispatch/records agreement with the city of Thief River Falls. The agreement was approved at the County Board meeting Tuesday, Sept. 25.

As part of the agreement, the city will pay $18.59 per square foot for 5,598 square feet at the Law Enforcement Center and Justice Center this year. That amount will increase 3 percent in both 2019 and 2020. The Thief River Falls City Council hasn’t yet formally voted on the agreement.

As part of the agreement, the city will also pay the county for half of the salaries and benefits for dispatchers and records staff.

In addition, the city will pay 100 percent of its portion of the Law Enforcement Technology Group fees. Those fees range from about $6,500 to $7,500 each year over the course of the contract. Those fees pertain to software for law enforcement radios.

As the Justice Center nears completion, commissioners have started to shift their focus onto the current Pennington County Courthouse.

“It makes sense to get started,” said Commissioner Don Jensen.

The Building Committee will soon conduct a walk-through of the third floor of the courthouse to determine what needs to be completed before the Human Services Department moves into that space. The third floor currently houses two courtrooms, the Court Administrator’s Office and a judge’s chambers.

County leaders want to move all of the Human Services Department employees to the courthouse sometime after the justice center is finished. Currently, those employees are located at the county-owned Human Services Department building on Knight Avenue and leased offices at the city-owned Carnegie Library. Plans call for those employees to move to the third floor of the current courthouse.

Commissioner Darryl Tveitbakk noted that BKV Group has designed a concept plan for the third floor of the courthouse. Tveitbakk added that the county doesn’t necessarily need to follow the concept plan. He indicated that cubicles could be installed in Courtroom A and a waiting/reception area could be created nearby.

Work continues on the Justice Center. Neither of the courtrooms are ready yet. It is hoped that court will be in session there sometime in October. In the meantime, court staff, attorneys and affected parties are using Courtroom B, the smaller of the two courtrooms. Technology equipment has been removed from Courtroom A, where the parties now wait until they appear in Courtroom B.

Commissioners also discussed the need to expand the space housing the Department of Motor Vehicles. Plans call for the wall to be removed between the DMV and County Attorney Seamus Duffy’s former office. Duffy’s office has since moved to the Justice Center.

Commissioners approved obtaining an appraisal for Dean Foods’ gravel parking lot south of the Justice Center. “I think it’s behoove of us to look at it,” Tveitbakk said.

Tveitbakk had suggested seeking an appraisal to determine whether commissioners wanted to present an offer for the property.

“We need to have an appraisal done before we offer them anything,” Jensen said.

Dean Foods recently shuttered its facility across the street from the Justice Center. Commissioners also heard that the company wanted to sell its properties on either side of Main Avenue as a package deal.