Three area county supervisors are prepared to participate in what could be a decades-long resolution of the Dane County Jail issue this Thursday, Jan. 19, when the board is scheduled to vote on how the jail construction will be funded.
Previously, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Sheriff Kalvin Barrett were joined by Dane County Board Supervisors in calling on the board to fund the long debated county jail consolidation project.
Resolutions introduced in December call for the board to choose between two new options to move the work forward.
Final designs for the jail consolidation project will be completed soon, but if dollars for the project aren’t approved by spring, bidding on construction can’t proceed, —delaying the work even longer.
“The county board needs to either pay for the project it asked be designed or allow the public a say in how to proceed on the jail,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a press release in late December. “While not as high as a few months ago, national inflation remains and that means the longer this issue remains unresolved, costs will be higher and inmates are either stuck in 70 year old jail space here or spending time in jails in other counties away from their homes and families.”
One of the three new jail resolutions now before the board moves $13.5 million in prior authorized borrowing not utilized on other capital projects to the jail project.
But that solution doesn’t increase the overall amount of budgeted county borrowing.
Two other resolutions set the stage for a countywide binding April referendum in which the public would decide whether the county should borrow an additional $13.5 million, the estimated funds needed to pay for the compromise jail design previously approved by the County Board.
“Consistent with the findings of the 2016 Dane County Jail Study, the project must move forward, any delay in moving out of the CCB Jail will continue to increase the risk and exposure of staff and residents to health and life safety issues,” said Barrett, recently sworn in to a new term as sheriff.
For the binding referendum to be included on the April spring ballot, the county board would have to approve the measure at its Jan.19 meeting.
Another resolution to reallocate prior borrowing would need to be adopted before the project is put out to bid.
Heading into Thursday’s meeting, bids will be ready for release in the spring — putting Dane County in a position to award a contract this fall.
“We have debated details of the jail project for almost a decade. In the meantime, the safety and health of both detainees and sheriff deputies continue to be put at risk,” said Dane County Board District 22 Supervisor Maureen McCarville, whose district includes DeForest and Windsor. “I fully support the reallocation of budgeted funds to get this project done before inflation makes those funds inadequate. If my colleagues won’t support using the existing funds, I fully support asking our voters to support additional borrowing. Ignoring the ongoing safety issues is not an option.”
Former Dane County Board Chair and District 3 Sun Prairie Supervisor Analiese Eicher said when the board voted down the referendum questions in August, Chair Patrick Miles made assurances that this would be resolved in the budget process.
“I brought forth amendments during the budget process that would’ve resolved the funding question and Chair Patrick Miles was the deciding vote in killing that measure,” Eicher added.
“The county executive and sheriff have been consistent in calling for a referendum to fund the jail project if the board fails to take action,” Eicher added. “That is the appropriate action to take if Chair Miles can not support or realize the responsibility of the county board funding the project.”
Calling the jail “outdated and dangerous for residents, workers, and volunteers,” Eicher pointed out Dane County is currently housing residents in other counties because of the unsafe conditions in Dane County and those individuals are not receiving the treatment and services in those counties the way they would in Dane County.
“A safe facility is part of the overall work and investments Dane County is making in transforming the justice system,” Eicher added.
Newly-elected District 46 Assembly Rep. Melissa Ratcliff, who has retained her District 36 seat on the county board, said she has been supportive of the jail consolidation project since she started on the county board, “because Dane County’s current facility is unsafe” for inmates, staff and volunteers.
Ratcliff represents Cottage Grove and a portion of the Town of Sun Prairie on the county board.
“Our current facility does not reflect our values of criminal justice reform,” Ratcliff added, “nor does it allow us to meet goals such as ending solitary confinement that our board has discussed at so many meetings.”
“The way ahead is before us,” Ratliff added. “We should approve the additional $13.5 million in funding which comes from existing sources and does not entail new borrowing. That would allow us to keep the six-story facility moving ahead.”
The new Assembly Representative and county supervisor pointed out that every month of delay, the costs of the project rise by about $1 million with inflation.
“In the unfortunate event that the additional funding is not approved,” Ratcliff added, “I will support going to referendum in April.”
The resolution calling for a referendum on the jail this spring was referred to the Dane County Board’s Executive Committee and Personnel and Finance Committee for review and action. The resolution needs to be adopted at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting to be included on the April ballot.
The resolution to reallocate borrowing was referred to the board’s Public Protection and Judiciary and Personnel and Finance committees and requires a two-thirds vote of the board to be adopted.
“The sheriff and I stood here together [seven] months ago and asked the county board to allow the public a say on this important project but we were told this decision was the board’s responsibility,” Parisi said. “So we’re here again to ask that the board make a decision and choose one of the two reasonable paths forward on this compromise.”