Dane Co. jail referendum proposal denied, $13.5 million bond issue re-referred to committee

The decades-long battle over the future of the Dane Co. jail consolidation project will hit a crossroads Thursday night.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 4:13 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 2:06 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – Following several hours of debate on the future of the Dane Co. jail consolidation project, neither resolution earned the support of the Dane County Board.

Board members voted on taking the question before Dane Co. voters on the ballot this spring through a referendum question first, voting the proposal down. The Board then moved back to discussing the general obligation bond proposal.

After more public comments on the $13.5 million bond issue, the Board voted in favor of rereferring the proposal to the personnel and finance committee for consideration of indefinite postponement.

Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett was in favor of a referendum and said his efforts aren’t over yet.

“Obviously the votes didn’t go the way that we wanted it to,” Barrett said. “There’s obviously a lot of work that we have to do in regards to compromise and providing insight and information on what the best options are forward.”

Of the two votes scheduled for Thursday night’s board meeting, one would have let county supervisors go ahead and approve the $13.5 million bond issue that would continue funding the project, while the other would have put the question before Dane Co. voters. To approve the bonds directly, three-quarters of board members would have had to back the proposal, a number that has proven hard for supporters to muster. If it passed, the bonds would be issued, and the second vote would be rendered moot.

However, if that measure had failed, board members would need to decide if Dane Co. voters should get a chance to approve the bonds. While the first vote requires a supermajority, getting the question on the April ballot would have required the approval of a simple majority of supervisors.

The push for a decision is coming to a head now because the funds are necessary to allow the bidding process on construction to move forward, the county previously stated. Without a decision, the project, which has been going on for more than two decades, would get pushed back further.

County Board Chair Patrick Miles indicated that he was in opposition of both measures.

“It is my opinion we should not be legislating by referendum,” Miles said. “This issue is too nuanced and too complex to fairly capture in a referendum question. A question about a small portion of the cost leaves a very incomplete picture of the breadth of the matters we are speaking to address.”

Maureen McCarville, also a member of the Dane County Board, was in favor of a referendum.

“We do not have a choice, we must build a jail that’s acceptable and that’s as provided by res. 320,” McCarville said. “Our citizens, residents, sheriffs staff and visitors deserve to have a safe place to work, visit, and unfortunately be detained.”

The County Executive Office and Sheriff’s Office previously pushed for supervisors to put a similar question before voters during November’s mid-term ballot, only to see the deadline for that election come and go. In November, supervisors passed their own plan for a five-story structure, one floor less than the one backed by County Executive Joe Parisi and Barrett, only to have it vetoed by the county executive two days later.

The plan backed by Parisi and Barrett calls for a six-story, 825-bed facility. Since their plan was revealed, the projected price tag has risen twice, while the ambitions for the jail have shrunk. Originally conceived as a seven-story jailhouse costing $148 million, one of the floors and 100 beds were dropped from the plan as part of a compromise deal that saw $20 million added to the bill. Last May, Parisi warned the entire project could end up costing another $10 million because of inflationary pressure. At the time, he predicted the design would cost approximately $175.7 million.

Click here to download the NBC15 News app or our NBC15 First Alert weather app.