Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, State Journal generic file photo (copy)

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi signed off on the record $853 million budget on Nov. 16 but vetoed an amendment that would have reworked the long-stalled jail project to five stories.

After the Dane County Board of Supervisors passed an amended version of the capital and operating budgets last week, County Executive Joe Parisi signed off on the record $853 million budget Wednesday but vetoed an amendment that advances the long-stalled jail project.

The veto kills the board's new proposal for a five-story jail, approved last week, and reverts to a jail proposal agreed upon in March. That March plan had been approved by the Dane County Board — though some of those supervisors have since left the board — and was supported by Parisi.

Parisi justified the move, saying that proceeding with design work that’s underway is the fastest, most cost effective path to closing the old City-County Building jail. 

“Just a few months ago, the County Board approved designing a compromise solution addressing the outdated CCB jail,” Parisi said of the March resolution that added $16 million to the project, bringing the total cost to $164 million. “The budget presented to me called for stopping the very design work the Board asked be done then and is now only weeks away from completion.”

The veto allows that work to continue and has no impact on funding for the project as all previously approved dollars for the jail consolidation project remain intact, according to Parisi's office. The effect is that the previously approved version of the jail consolidation continues to move forward.

The adopted budget offers broad policy goals but “charts no clear path forward” for the jail, Parisi said. 

“I feel stopping the thoughtful, detailed design work the county has invested in would be irresponsible, wasteful, and perpetuate the start/stop cycle that’s driven up the cost of this project,” Parisi added.

Competing amendments

Last week, after hours of budget debate, the board approved a scaled-back, five-story jail and also OKed investing $500,000 in criminal justice reform, a proposal from County Board Chair Patrick Miles.

Miles’ amendment passed in various committees, but went up against a contrasting proposal from Supervisor Analiese Eicher, District 3, that aligned with the compromise the board passed in March. Eicher’s amendment, ultimately, was rejected in favor of Miles’, which was more in line with a proposal from the Dane County Board’s Black Caucus aimed at reducing the jail population in the unsafe facility. 

Miles’ proposal, co-sponsored by Supervisors Richelle Andrae, Dana Pellebon, Jacob Wright, Cecely Castillo and April Kigeya, would have ceased work on the current plans for the jail and would design a five-story facility instead. It would have required additional votes in the future to finance the changes.

Miles' reacted to Parisi's veto of the plan noting, "we now finally know where the county executive stands on the jail consolidation project. The question would be, knowing the county executive's position on the project, does (that) change anybody's perspective on how they would vote on funding? That's what I need to evaluate at this point."

The jail renovation, which would be the most expensive public works project in county history, has been talked about in some form for decades. The County Board’s compromise in March brought the total cost to $165 million for a six-story facility with approximately 825 beds.

The renovation was originally conceptualized as a seven-story tower with 922 beds — and $24 million over budget at the time it was proposed. The aging jail currently has eight stories and 1,013 beds.

But with inflation and prices for construction skyrocketing, the board has continually stalled on getting the project off the ground.

Miles' goal for his proposal is to “get the project done.” 

He also noted that “having a smaller facility we not only are committing to housing fewer people in the jail and addressing disparity issues, but from a dollars and cents perspective, a smaller facility is going to have a lesser operating maintenance cost."

Parisi reminded the board in his Wednesday memo that the priority from the beginning has been closing the City-County Building Jail.

“As of today, there’s only one project being designed that accomplishes that fundamental goal. The compromise jail consolidation project the Board previously asked be designed reduces over 200 beds from our current jail capacity, while still closing the CCB jail,” Parisi said. “Even the most cutting-edge approaches to reform can’t overcome archaic practices like solitary confinement.”

Referencing political debate at the state and national levels, Parisi said conversation surrounding the project has “devolved into all or nothing, zero sum games.”

“False choices can’t drive this conversation,” he said. “We can have both the most progressive criminal justice system in the country that diverts those away from jail who don’t need to be there while ensuring the safety of the community by making sure we have the right facility for those who do.”

“This should be our goal,” he added. 

No equity study in Behavioral Health division needed, Parisi says

To work as a social worker in the county’s Department of Human Services Behavioral Health division, applicants must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work, or be working toward a degree, according to current job listings. A budget amendment reclassified four social worker roles to case managers. Case managers can be hired without that degree or certification.

Parisi said he is in favor of the case manager roles, and the diversity their hiring would enhance, but removed a line requiring “a study and a plan” in the amendment that would promote diversity. He called it redundant.

“The Department of Human Services already has an equity plan. It’s been on file with the Department of Equity and Inclusion for years and is reviewed and updated,” Parisi said. "Choices on whether to add new case managers or limit hiring to only those who can pass a social worker exam have a direct impact on the racial diversity of our service delivery. We can do more to help set our departments up for success in this regard, but more action is the answer, not studying again something that’s already been studied.”

Budget overview

The budget makes large investments in basic needs, housing, mental health supports, restorative justice and conservation initiatives, putting a conditional $1.5 million toward closing the Madison Public Market funding gap, $16 million for a new county elections facility and another $4 million toward the Dane County Affordable Housing Development fund.

Parisi noted the effect of inflation and how it has widened income disparities and tested the county’s human services safety net.

The newly passed budget raises property taxes to $40.51 on the average Madison home.

The budget includes:

  • $6 million to continue the Farm to Foodbank program through 2023
  • $1.5 million for The River Food Pantry to meet increasing needs
  • $10 million for the Dane County Affordable Housing Development Fund
  • $6 million for a new permanent men’s homeless shelter, bringing the county’s contribution to $9 million
  • $15.6 million for road improvement projects
  • $4.5 million for the development and installation of carbon capture technologies and a new position in the Department of Waste & Renewables

“The budget I signed today builds upon the county’s legacies in the areas of behavioral health services, caring for our most vulnerable, and addressing both the root causes and effects of climate change,” Parisi said. “It offers an even bolder path forward on the work needed to clean up our lakes. It creates a brand new county department, committed to implementing criminal justice reforms that address disparities, reduce recidivism and protect public safety.”

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