BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – County supervisors approved a move Tuesday to upgrade the camera system in the Lee County Jail with a price tag of just over $320,000.
Lee County Jail Administrator John Canida said the system is outdated and has been a pointed out on the last several state jail inspections as being insufficient for coverage and software.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase and installation from Mohrfeld Electric, 4-1 after tabling the issue a week ago to take a closer look at the only bid received for the work.
Supervisor Rich Harlow voted against the purchase because the county had already approved adding six full-time correctional officers to the staff, and staff was better than cameras.
“Cameras are no substitute for staff. Everybody, I submit to you that now we do have more staff. We’ve gone from part-time to full-time officers and the cameras are no substitute for a good staff,” Harlow told the board.
Todd Peterson, an engineer with Ericsen Ellison and Associates of St. Paul. Minn., drew up the engineers estimate, which supervisors said was about $100,000 below Mohrfeld’s bid.
“First of all, it is correct that the current camera system is out of support and parts are difficult to get so that needed to be replaced,” he said.
“The other thing this project did was to address blind sports in the current jail. Those were cameras not included in original construction of the jail and staff has identified problem areas for coverage.”
Peterson said the increased costs included the additional cameras to allow better coverage of the jail. He said he agreed that cameras are not replacements for employees, but said they are critical for incident reconstruction.
He also said COVID has had a direct impact on supplies and pricing.
“Back to the estimate, I put it together based on some pricing that a vendor assisted with earlier in the year. Since that time COVID did have an impact on the cost of materials,” Peterson said.
“There was also a software upgrade in a couple versions that did not trigger us into a full upgrade, but unfortunately now those upgrades are in place.”
Peterson said he admitted there were a couple parts of the estimate where he underestimated the cost.
Peterson said Mohrfeld’s bid for the work is a current bid and is not the cadillac of systems, but more of a middle of the road product.
“But there is nothing in here you can cut out that just increased the cost of the bid,” Peterson said. “My review of that bid seems valid and reasonable per industry standards.
Canida said the state inspector told him during the last inspection that the county needed to get on top of the aging system.
“He said our system’s outdated and if we don’t go ahead and get on top of it and do some upgrades, we’re going to be without a system,” Canida said.
“You can’t get parts for it and he’s seen it happen across the state and doesn’t want us to be in that situation.”
The county had to go out for bids because of the estimated cost of the upgrade, but only received one bid and that was from Mohrfeld Electric.
Larkin said it puts the county in an unenviable position when they only get one bid. But he said rebidding the project would give unfair advantage to Mohrfeld competitor’s who didn’t bid the project initially.
“Makes it difficult when we put it out for bids and what we end up with was one bid,” he said.
“If we don’t accept that bid and we go back out, it puts the company that put in the original bid at a disadvantage. And I can’t feature them lowering it much. That’s something to think about.”
In other action, supervisors:
• approved a resolution to request reimbursement from state CARES Act funding for eligible costs related to the COVID-19 public health emergency in the amount of $426,703.69.
• approved moving five part-time sheriff’s deputies to full-time status and hired a temporary election clerk.