Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher is calling for a “reality check” about the many constraints facing the long-controversial jail consolidation project, which is now facing ballooning costs and a variety of perspectives about next steps forward.
In a letter sent today to Dane County Sheriff Barrett, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, and to the entire Dane County Board, Eicher lays out several options for continuing the process of building the county’s next jail amid ongoing financial, electoral, and project timeline constraints.
She says the letter is directed at all of the above.
“This is not just for the sheriff’s office, this is also to the executive’s office and to other members of the Board. This is not a singular issue, this is something that requires every single actor in this, and every single decision-maker and stakeholder who is involved to be communicative in this,” Eicher says.
The plan was approved in 2019 and was supposed to begin construction last year. But as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the estimated cost of the project shot past its estimated price tag of $148 million dollars, as the projected price of labor and material skyrocketed.
Two plans before the Board would expand funding by millions to continue the project.
One option would follow the original plan more closely, and would be a seven-story tower that would hold 922 beds for residents. But this is also the more expensive option, adding about $22 million on to the plan. But, this would allow both the city-county jail and the Ferris Huber Center to be closed.
The second option is less expensive, costing only about seven million more than the initially planned $148 million. But, it could mean a drastic reduction to the original plan, cutting one floor, reducing visitation areas, and only holding 794 residents.
But Supervisor Melissa Ratcliff says that this second option may not be enough to close the aging and cramped jail in the City-County Building, which was built in the 1950s. That jail frequently uses small, solitary confinement cells.
“You are making the jail smaller in the change order option. It takes out the 7th floor, so it reduces the number of beds by 128 beds. So if our jail population is more than that, where are we going to put them? It’s possible that we would keep the City-County building open still, or it’s possible we would send residents to other county jails, which is a very large cost from our operations budget that that is not budgeting for and would cause other services and programs to be lost,” Ratcliff says.
Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett told the Wisconsin State Journal recently that this practice is inhumane and “borderline unconstitutional”.
The project is headed to a committee meeting on February 7th, and to the full Board of Supervisors next month. Regardless of which path is taken, three quarters of the Board must vote to do so. Alternatively, the question could be put to voters as soon as this November – Eicher says the Board could alternatively send the question to voters to decide as a ballot referendum.
Photo courtesy: Brian Standing / WORT-FM