Wexford Co. Commissioners make tough decisions at board meeting

Wexford County Commissioners discuss next step in Animal Shelter investigation, the possibility of building a new jail and shutting down the county's recycling center.

Wexford County commissioners made some tough decisions at Wednesday night's board meeting. There were three important issues topping the agenda for wexford county commissioners. The first: what to do about overcrowding at the Wexford County Jail.

Wexford County Commissioners unanimously approved to move forward with a study focusing on the needs of the jail, like sentencing rules, or building a new jail all together. They said this study is necessary, because right now, the jail only has 32 beds with an average of 90 inmates at one time. The overflow of inmates is then housed in neighboring counties like Manistee and Missaukee counties. Commissioners say this process is way too costly for the county.

"There's a tremendous expense to the tax payers," said Ken Hilton, Wexford County Administrator. "It costs them over $500,000 per year just for the housing costs of those prisoners. Plus, there's the added expense of having deputies transport prisoners back and forth."

The study to determine what the next step is will cost approximately $10,000. Hinton said he expects the study to begin in a month, and to take at least two to three months to complete.

Another major issue topping the agenda: whether or not to shut down the Wexford County Recycling Center. Running on what commissioners call a "break even" philosophy, they said what it comes down to is money. The recycling center is not bringing in enough money to pay for the recycling costs, and county commissioners butted heads on what to do. Some ideas were to fund it until the end of the year, others were to shut it down immediately to save money. With a 3 to 5 vote, the majority of commissioners agreed to shut down the recycling center on February 14th, and $5,000 of the general county fund will be used to pay off the center's remaining debt. Commissioners assured Wexford County residents that there are other private companies in the county that offer recycling for residents.

The next step is to discuss what to do with the building once it becomes vacant. Another issue county commissioners addressed: the allegations against the euthanasia practices at the Wexford County Animal Shelter. After a closed-meeting with an attorney, due to legal issues, board members were advised that their options are severely limited at this point. The attorney said since it is the sheriff's shelter, the board does not have authority to maintain control. Commissioners said they are working with Sheriff Gary Finstrom to abide by the policy in place, and still have a veterinarian overseeing all euthanizations at the shelter. However, commissioners are urging, if a non-profit like a humane society, can take over the shelter, they would endorse it.

The Department of Agriculture is also conducting an independent investigation on the shelter.

Click HERE to see highlights from the emergency meeting Wexford Commissioners called to address the concerns about the Animal Shelter.