Dane County Public Safety Building jail hallway (copy) (copy)

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called on the County Board to move forward with the county jail renovation project Wednesday after failing to add $23 million for the project to the 2022 budget last week.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi called on the County Board to move forward with the county jail renovation project Wednesday after failing to add $23 million for the project to the 2022 budget last week.

The county considered adding more funds to the major jail renovation in October after disruptions in the supply chain caused by the pandemic grew the estimated cost of the project to $170 million. 

The current plans call for closing the 1950s-era jail in the City-County Building and the Ferris Huber Center and building a new seven-story tower behind the county’s Public Safety Building downtown.

With the $150 million dollar project already green-lit, Parisi didn’t support adding more dollars “in the absence of further homework,” he wrote in a memo to board members Monday.

“The reality is the future of the jail project remains in limbo because there’s no consensus among policymakers on how to proceed,” Parisi said.

In the memo, Parisi contended the project was not on pause at his direction, and he outlined three options for the board to move forward with the development. One new proposal was to hold a public referendum next year and let voters make the ultimate decision on whether to increase funding for the project. 

But in another memo sent out Wednesday, Parisi urged County Board members to consider two ‘hybrid options’ that would fit into the $150 million funding and avoid authorizing borrowing more money.

The first option proposed by Parisi would build a new six-story tower with 904 beds next to the Public Safety Building, 115 W. Doty St., in a county-owned parking lot facing West Wilson Street instead of building on top of it. However, this route would forgo remodeling the outdated Public Safety Building. 

The second option would be to construct a new seven-story facility with 1,034 beds, also forgoing remodeling the Public Safety Building. It could require a three-quarters majority vote from the board.

He said if the County Board approves a resolution asking developers to proceed with either design, he will sign it.

“Let’s get that resolution moving in December and on my desk by January so we don’t lose more time prior to the expiration of our bonding authority,” Parisi said in his Wednesday statement. “The recent realization that $74 million in bonding approval sunsets should serve as plenty of motivation for all us to expedite decision-making.”

Parisi added that moving on a resolution now would improve the odds the project is out to bid by the end of next summer, preserving previously approved borrowing authority.

County Board Chair Analiese Eicher said she appreciated “the spirit” of Parisi’s memo and the new options for the renovation, but expressed concerns that other critical partners weren’t involved in the process.

The Dane County way is to work on hard problems collaboratively,” Eicher said in a memo to the board Wednesday. “Yes, the Board must act. We must do so with respect to our new Sheriff.  We must have expectations that law enforcement, the District Attorney and Public Defender, and the Courts be partners in efforts to improve the criminal justice system and minimize incarceration.”

County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said he is “all for” moving forward with the project. He said when people walk into the City-County Building, they can see and smell the “oldness.”

He and the Sheriff’s Office have yet to examine the new options for the project, but Barrett said it’s a step in the right direction.

“Whatever steps we make, we want to make sure we look into (all the options) based on research and not just what we’re feeling at the time,” he said. “We just want to make sure that whatever we’re moving forward with is sustainable, not just now but in the future.”

 

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.