Dane Co. officials push for public referendum to increase jail project funding

Dane Co. Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, along with County Executive Joe Parisi, is expected to give an update Monday morning on the ongoing jail reconstruction project
Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 8:03 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 13, 2022 at 7:28 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Some area officials are now calling for the community to decide whether or not to approve additional funding for the Dane County Jail Reconstruction Project.

Dane Co. Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, along with County Executive Joe Parisi, gave an update Monday morning on the ongoing jail reconstruction project during a news conference.

The pair explained that Dane County is currently approved for $165.9 million to spend on the project, but more money is needed to keep up with increased supply costs. Recent estimates indicate the new price tag has risen to $175.7 million and Parisi said inflation is only making officials more concerned.

“Time is not on our side and after exploring options for close to a decade, the best and frankly only feasible plan is to put the jail to a public vote this fall,” Parisi said.

Three-fourths of the Dane County Board, made up of 37 individuals, would have to support adding the funds. However, not enough supervisors are backing the plan which will only further delay the project.

The option of a referendum can be approved by a simple majority vote of the board. A resolution for it would need to be passed by August for it to appear on the fall ballot, Parisi explained.

Barrett stated that they have come too far not to finish the job soon and make the jail a more humane facility.

“We pursued every possible efficiency in design and re-design,” Barrett said. “We’ve embraced the most progressive criminal justice reforms in the country. In the end, the reality is it still costs millions of dollars to replace over 60 year old antiquated jail space.”

For Supervisor Elizabeth Doyle, a public referendum isn’t the first choice.

“I just think that that’s asking a lot of the public to try to get up to speed on all these very nuanced components,” Doyle said.

She said she believes there are other options.

“We could have these other recommendations or adjustments that could be made to the project to keep it moving along,” Doyle said.

The Sheriff’s Office noted that the resolution needed to move the renovation project forward does not appear on Monday’s board finance committee agenda.

Last month, Parisi revealed the already pared-down plan would cost the county $10 million more than already increased $165.9 million price tag. Board supervisors had agreed in March to a plan that would see 100 beds and an entire floor shaved off the original project.

In his May 17 update, Parisi told them Tuesday that the design will now cost $175.7 million, which is more than first plan was expected to cost in March when supervisors first upped how much they would spend.

When supervisors debated upping how much would be spent for the project from the original $148 million, they were told moving forward with the original plan would run $170 million. At the time, Parisi cited higher costs for materials and supply chain issues. In his letter, Parisi noted that the project would now cost $190.1 million, or about 28 percent more than initially budgeted.

Parisi told supervisors his office had already drafted a proposal to request the additional approximately $10 million and get the ball rolling with the designers, Mead and Hunt. He described asking them to move forward with the redesign requested by supervisors without knowing if the additional sums were approved would be “imprudent.”

He also gave the supervisors an August 18 deadline to decide whether to approve the increase or make further cuts to the project, so county officials could determine how much the county would need to borrow this fall.

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