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County Executive, Sheriff Call for Public Referendum on Dane County Jail Reconstruction

June 13, 2022
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
County Executive

Officials: November Referendum Needed for Project to Proceed on Schedule

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Sheriff Kalvin Barrett are calling for a public referendum on this November's ballot to fund the additional dollars needed for the long talked about jail reconstruction project to move forward.

The referendum is needed to close a funding gap that needs to be bridged for the project to be put out to bid on time. The county currently has approved $165.9 million for the jail reconstruction. Recent cost estimates however project the actual dollar amount needed before bids can be let is closer to $175.7 million. Given the impact of inflation on goods and services, officials are concerned the cost of construction will only continue to increase as the project remains unresolved.

"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," County Executive Joe Parisi said. He noted three quarters of the 37 member Dane County Board would have to support adding the $10 million needed for the jail project to move forward. Not enough Supervisors back the funding needed, further jeopardizing the project schedule and current cost estimates. To illustrate the challenge in getting necessary approvals, a proposal to add funding for the jail project was removed from the agenda for this evening's meeting of the County Board's Personnel and Finance Committee.

"Every time we let months go by, this project ends up costing millions more. Delay is only making this more expensive. If the Board doesn't have the votes to keep this moving - that’s understandable - but then the only responsible step is to allow the residents of this county to decide," Parisi concluded.

"This project is at a crossroads and we have come too far not to finish the job and fund the work that many years of analysis shows is needed and frankly overdue," Sheriff Barrett said. "For us to get the highest quality contractors and bidders, we as a county need to send a clear signal that we support a safer, more humane jail facility," he added.

Barrett noted that further reductions to the jail's design - which as proposed already eliminates more than 100 cells from the current jail's size - would jeopardize public safety.

"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."

A referendum on the jail could be approved by a simple majority vote of the County Board. That resolution would need to be passed by August for the jail question to appear on this fall's ballot.

"Funds need to be approved and then the project put out to bid before dollars previously okayed for the jail sunset," Parisi added. "We are running out of time to get this done. The jail project can't afford another 10 months of political machinations and maneuvering," he concluded.

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