A controversial proposal for a new $150 million Dane County Jail is dead, County Executive Joe Parisi revealed while announcing his proposed 2015 budget Wednesday.
“We now know such a facility would require an enormous capital investment that would not result in sufficient savings,” Parisi said in his budget statement.
The proposed $532.4 million operating budget with $38.9 million in authorized capital spending would increase property taxes on the average Madison home by about $23. It would protect budget reserves, maintain most services and spend $4.5 million to address criticism of the 911 system by cranking up emergency radio signals to levels higher than any other countywide system in Wisconsin.
But among the most striking things about the budget is an item that is missing.
Nothing is budgeted to move forward with a new jail to replace aging lockups that are now spread over three buildings.
The county contracted consulting firm Mead & Hunt for $441,000 to study ways to reduce operating costs by consolidating jail services and replacing outdated cell blocks with modern designs requiring less deputies to supervise.
But when the plan arrived in June, construction cost projections had increased by $50 million to $135 million, not including millions more that would be needed for land acquisition, contingencies and design fees. The latest total estimate is $150 million, according to the budget statement.
And the plan not only failed to reduce operating costs, it would have increased them by $2.6 million to $36.8 million annually.
County administrators found $4 million in cuts, but County Board members began talking about finding ways to reduce costs by building gradually or fixing only the worst problems.
Parisi said he remains committed to finding less costly ways to address inhumane treatment of mentally ill inmates who are placed in antiquated isolation cells that can worsen their symptoms.
“We can address mental illness and these safety improvements for well under $150 million, and I look forward to continued work with the sheriff and the County Board on a plan that meets the county’s needs while recognizing current fiscal realities,” Parisi said.
Sheriff Dave Mahoney said Wednesday he wants further study of a renovation plan that would move 500 sick and mentally ill inmates, and other maximum security inmates, from the sixth and seventh floors of the City-County Building into a new facility — much smaller and less expensive than the new jail envisioned by consultants — that could be placed on relatively inexpensive land away from Downtown.
Renovations and a small expansion of the lockup in the Public Safety Building are also needed. Mahoney said he didn’t have a cost estimate, but he said such changes could dovetail with a possible conversion of the jail floors in the City-County Building into city offices, something Madison officials are considering, and allow closure of the Ferris Huber facility.
The 2014 county budget included $8 million to study jail alternatives and possible land acquisition. Most of that remains available to fund further study, said Parisi’s chief of staff, Josh Wescott.
Services trend continues
If the County Board approves Parisi’s proposal next month, the Human Services Department would spend $272.2 million, more than half of the operating budget. Parisi’s proposal includes $196,400 for agencies so they can pay workers a county-mandated “living wage” of $11.47 an hour.
Advocates for people with developmental disabilities said the plan continued a downward trend. The county has increased the number of individuals who receive aid and overall spending on them, but individual grants have decreased again as they have for years because a new group of adults is entering the system.
Parisi said that despite hard financial times, he plans to build the budget reserve to just more than $20 million, up from the $19.6 million target this year.
“Drawing from the reserve at a time we don’t have to would be an incredibly irresponsible mistake,” Parisi said.
Radios to end criticism
In a move announced previously, Parisi wants to end police and fire criticism about unreliability of emergency radio transmissions in certain buildings.
Parisi proposed spending $4 million to build four new radio towers to fix the problem he said he inherited when he took office in 2011.
“Pointing fingers won’t solve the challenge,” Parisi said. “This enhancement delivers a system better than anyone in the public safety community ever asked for.”
In another initiative, county highway funds will be reallocated and worker schedules changed to increase snowplow staffing to 24 hours a day for 46 additional miles of busy roads like University Avenue, Highways Q and K between Waunakee and Middleton, Highways M and PD and others, Parisi said.
Newly available state aid will allow hiring of three new highway workers to improve maintenance on Interstate 39-90, the Beltline and Verona Road, he said.
Parisi plans to spend $750,000 on two new loading docks at the Alliant Energy Center to help entertainers load and unload equipment for shows. He said the change could help generate more revenue by making the venue more attractive.