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Houghton County approves purchase of potential jail site

HOUGHTON — Houghton County has a new site for a potential jail.

Tuesday, the board approved purchasing the First Apostolic Lutheran Church property on Sharon Avenue for $1.1 million. The board discussed the purchase in closed session prior to the vote.

The terms of when Houghton County would be able to move onto the site still need to be finalized in the purchase agreement, Vice Chairman Tom Tikkanen said.

Board members and the public toured the church site last month prior to a board work session. The congregation plans to build a bigger church on Gundlach Road.

The 14,000-square-foot building would be planned to house the sheriff’s office, work camp, district court, and potentially offices such as the county clerk. A new county jail would be built on land behind the church, partially overlapping with the current parking lot.

Last month, Commissioner Gretchen Janssen said the church had yet to break ground, and could stay in its current location for another year and a half to two years.

Last month, architect Karin Cooper said design would take roughly six months, with another year for construction.

Voters would first need to approve a millage for whatever facility the county plans to build. To qualify for the August ballot, the county would need to file ballot language for a millage by May 11.

Also Tuesday, the board:

≤ Heard from Clerk Jennifer Kelly the clerk’s office may experience cuts in office.

≤ Heard from Vice Chairman Tom Tikkanen that a single-stream recycling dropoff point will be available to county residents at the transfer station starting on April 22, which is Earth Day. There will be a $5 fee per vehicle. The county Solid Waste Committee developed the site in conjunction with the Copper Country Recycling Initiative. Additionally, Great American Disposal will be purchasing the county’s former transfer station site on Sharon Avenue.

≤ Heard from Equalization Director Cheryl Patrick. This year’s state equalized value for the county increased to more than $1.35 billion. The top three units for assessed equalized value were Houghton, Portage Township and Hancock. Taxable value was $1,009,829,860, up 3.64% over last year.

“There’s been a big increase in sales in a year and a half,” Patrick said. “People from all around the country are buying property in Houghton County.”

≤ Heard from auditor Debbie Bradford the county had received an unmodified opinion on its audit, indicating no red flags or illegal acts. The county deficit declined from about $3 million two years ago to $1.1 million, which Bradford said was due to an increase in assets. CARES Act funding helped bring federal awards up to $8.2 million from $6.5 million. The biggest increase in expenditures came from the flood issues being tackled by the Road Commission.

Bradford complimented Elizabeth Bjorn for keeping the county’s internal controls together.

“She said she likes to be audited,” Bradford said. “Now, I don’t get that much.”

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