Competition, price wars and hard times have caught up with the Hubbard County Correctional Center.
Wednesday, the county commission reduced the inmate boarding charge from $55 per day to $46 per day to match a price war initiated by Crow Wing County.
Losing $9 per day per inmate could add up, commissioners agreed, but it may be preferable to empty cells. The jail's current occupancy rate hovers around 30 inmates per day; the facility was designed to hold 116.
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What prompted the rate decrease was a polite ultimatum from Wadena County.
Chief Deputy Frank Homer said Wadena County, which has been sending its inmates here, got a better offer from Crow Wing County, which may be in jeopardy of losing its contract with Cass County.
The deal - $46 per night, meals included.
Wadena County has enjoyed a good relationship with Hubbard County, Homer said, but money is money. If Wadena can save that $9 per day it will look elsewhere, officials there recently informed Hubbard County.
"It's a more competitive market," Homer admitted. In answer to commissioners' questions, he added, "If we drop the price for them we have to do it for all other counties."
"As much as it irritates the heck out of me, it's better than an empty cell," said commissioner Dick Devine.
"Did we base the $55 on our actual costs?" asked commissioner Cal Robinson.
It was based on rates of surrounding counties, said coordinator Jack Paul. Commissioners believe they'll be losing money at the lower rate, but said they're losing money now.
The jail's operational costs have mushroomed to $1.8 million and the number of inmates has steadily declined.
Homer told the commissioners, who have expressed many concerns over the jail draining county coffers, "I hate how this is going also but I hate cutting ties with the surrounding counties," leaving the current rates higher.
Commissioners doubt in trying times they'll be able to get any surrounding counties to sign long-term housing agreements guaranteeing payment for a certain number of cells.
That's why Cass wants out of its contract with Crow Wing, Homer said. Cass is apparently paying for a guaranteed 60 inmates, but only providing Crow Wing 20. Even paying a penalty to exit their contract would be money ahead, Homer said he has been told.
The price change goes into effect March 1 and will be reviewed in six months. "Maybe dropping the price to $46 may generate more interest," Homer said.
But the rate decrease could also have a downside, he admitted.
"Where would we draw the line or where should we draw the line?" he asked