Burleigh County commissioners are seeking companies to design a new two-county jail in southeast Bismarck.

The county commission voted 4-1 at its meeting Monday to advertise for architects to do the design. It was also briefed about draft home rule charter that will allow the county to pay for a jail with a half-cent sales tax.

Sheriff Pat Heinert said then design quotes will be opened Sept. 4, then will go to the jail committee for review. He said a design will be presented to the commission Sept. 26.

“We will interview the top three firms and come back to the commission with a tabulated score and the recommendation of the firm to hire,” Heinert said.

“We’re looking for a January date to have preliminary drawings done and a good solid cost estimate,” he added.

Commissioner Mark Armstrong was the lone vote against advertising for jail designs.

“I think it’s premature. I think we should wait and see what the voters have to say about this,” he explained after the meeting.

Armstrong asked Heinert why the county was seeking jail designs nearly a year in advance.

“They are going to look at the sites to see which of the two sites we’ve got is the better site,” Heinert said. “They are going to develop a cost estimate for the new facility and some practical things we can show the public so they know exactly what they are voting on.”

“We are trying to be as up front as we can, get as accurate of a number as we possibly can before we go to the public,” said County Commissioner Jerry Woodcox.

Heinert said the Morton County Commission last week voted to join Burleigh County in building a new jail if their separate home rule charters are approved next June. Both counties have determined they can pay for a $50 million jail in about six years with a half-cent sales tax. A final agreement is being worked through with the state’s attorneys and other officials of the counties.

Under an agreement reached last week, Burleigh County would pay for 88 percent of building costs and Morton County the rest.

Officials from both counties reasoned that Morton County shoppers contribute to Burleigh County’s sales tax revenue, and that Burleigh County should pay more for more of the jail.

Operation costs will be decided separately based on inmate populations from each county.

Home rule charter

In a related item, Claus Lembke of the Burleigh County Home Rule Charter Commission, said the group has recommended a limited draft home rule charter that will go to a public hearing Sept. 26. If voters approve a home rule charter, the county can charge a short-term sales tax to pay for the jail’s construction. Lembke said the tax will end when the jail is paid for.

He described the document drafted as “simple” and “clean.” Lembke credited the sheriff, County Auditor Kevin Glatt, other commissioners and the state’s attorney’s office for making the process brief — completed between March and June — and run smoothly. He said they did the work by examining Williams, Ward and Cass counties’ home rule charters.

He said the draft charter excludes adding any extra powers to the county other than paying for a jail.

“We collectively felt we were hired to put together a charter for you that exclusively deals with the funding of the jail,” Lembke said.

Lembke said they all liked Glatt’s one-page document.

The charter allows the county, with voter approval:

— To levy a one-half cent sales tax to exclusively pay the bonds issue for the construction of a new detention center and demolishing and remodeling the new detention center.

— To have the five county commissioners and other elected officials keep the powers they have now.

— To repeal the charter through a petition process.

“We recommend after a public hearing that you adopt this,” Lembke said.

The adopted home rule charter still goes before the county voters next June.

County Commissioner Doug Schonert praised the charter commission for working quickly and studying the other charters.

“I’m always available as long as there is a ‘sunset’ in it,” Lembke said of the sales tax.

Woodcox, also a charter commission member, said the draft will be advertised over the summer before the Sept. 26 meeting. He said there may be other hearings on the draft if needed.

The Morton County Home Rule Charter Commission has held one meeting on its charter and is also studying other counties’ charters. Voters in each county will vote separately on the home rule charters and sales tax ballots.

Reach LeAnn Eckroth at 701-250-8264 or leann.eckroth@bismarcktribune.com.