After Benewah County Sheriff Anthony Eells mentioned at the last commissioners’ meeting that the county jail failed to meet certain benchmarks, the commissioners agreed he should begin planning for a new one.
The county board of commissioners had its regular meeting Monday, September 27, where they discussed this proposal and several other issues of county governance.
Right now, the jail in Benewah County has 12 beds. Eells’ goal is to build a new facility with at least 60, ideally installing as many as 100. The extra space would be used to house state inmates, and the state of Idaho would pay the county for this service.
“I just need to see what property is available to build, because that will determine what type of building I should be planning for,” Eells said.
The sheriff’s understanding is that the county jail must be within the city limits of the county seat, which limits potential building sites in St. Maries. The most viable option would be a one-story building at a lot on First Street, near Archie’s IGA, but the board also discussed building a multi-story structure with a smaller footprint. A third option would be for the city to annex county land at another site.
“It’s been long overdue to build a new jail,” said Commissioner Mark Reynolds. “We’re going to get to the point where we have no options, so it’s better for us to be proactive now.”
At the previous commissioners’ meeting, Eells had mentioned that both the Idaho Sheriff’s Association and the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program had visited the jail and taken issue with its layout and design.
“It’s coming,” he said at the meeting Monday. “They’re probably going to get rid of our insurance for the jail or charge us lots more, and it’s going to cost us either way.”
The commissioners did not commit to any project, but agreed that Eells should continue looking into the plan and the requirements it would need to fulfill.
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Benewah County Coroner Ron Hodge and Kootenai County Coroner Warren Keene came to the meeting to present a proposal for purchasing a refrigerated trailer for additional storage
“In our emergency planning, we always talk about needing to rent a refrigerated semi-trailer if we have any situation at all,” Hodge said. “We hope it never comes to this, but we want to be ready just in case, especially right now.”
Kootenai County has the money in its budget to pay for most of the trailer, and it would be stored and maintained there, but the five counties in District 1 would each have access to it as needed. Hodge and Keene asked Benewah County to contribute $5,000, and the commissioners agreed, provided those funds were available from the ARPA emergency-relief program.
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Representatives from the Fernwood-Santa water districts asked the board to fund two projects to improve maintenance in the area: a backhoe to dig up and repair lines, and replacement water meters to improve and standardize billing in the area. The backhoe would cost about $35,000, and the new meter system would be about $50,000.
The commissioners approved these projects, also pending availability from ARPA. If not, then the board said they would work with the districts to figure out another solution. Reynolds encouraged the water boards to pursue additional funding through grants and said the county would be able to help match funds if the grants required them.
“Santa, Fernwood and even Emida are unincorporated areas, so you’d actually have to depend on the county government for quite a bit of your infrastructure,” said board chairman Phil Lampert. “Don’t be afraid to come to the county for advice or ideas or needs.”
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Jim Roletto with HMH Engineering updated the board on several road construction projects in the county and said they were going well and proceeding on-schedule. He said HMH had won a grant to improve traffic safety throughout the county, and those designs would be submitted in 2022.
Roletto also said the winter would be a good time to repair the Slaughter House Bridge, which may qualify from a Local Highway Technical Assistance emergency grant.
The board also discussed several roads that needed attention throughout the county, especially up along Hells Gulch.
“We know there’s a lot to do, but our crews are going to continue, they’ve got good attitudes and they work hard,” Reynolds said.
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The commissioners approved consideration of a parcel as an odd lot for purchase, and also approved the sale of a parcel at Crystal Creek for its full listed price after it failed to sell at auction. They also confirmed their preliminary approval of the Carnolian Plat two-parcel subdivision.
After repainting the areas of the Federal Building occupied by the US Forest Service, Lampert said he had requested the agency resume paying its full rent to the county. The commissioners also received a report that there was no mold or excess moisture in the building, and confirmed that its roof will be replaced in October.
The board agreed to support several small measures that other groups had put forward. This included a letter of support for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe as they continue to develop their bus service and joining a national settlement regarding opioids that the state requested counties support. The commissioners also acknowledged new rules requiring face coverings in areas of the building related to court proceedings, which was an emergency order issued by the Idaho Supreme Court. All jury trials will be delayed until at least December as part of that same order.
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The St. Maries Golf Course reported its revenues and earnings were up over last year by a considerable amount, and it planned to update its sprinkler system in the coming weeks, after the peak of the season had died down but before winter comes. Commissioner Reynolds also said leaders at the course were thinking of installing a small driving range, and could mark off trees from the area it clears in order to help pay for the project.
“The course doesn’t have to be a cash cow for us, but I’m glad it can pay its own way,” Lampert said.
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The county commissioners’ next meeting will be Tuesday, October 12, at the county courthouse, 701 College Ave. in St. Maries. For more information, contact the county clerk’s office at (208) 245-3212.