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Project support jeopardizes supervisors’ jobs

Paul Snyder

Eight Monroe County supervisors face recall for supporting construction of a $30 million justice center.

“I think it sends a terrible message to anyone that wants to run for an office,” said Pete Peterson, one of the county supervisors facing recall in an Oct. 20 special election. “To recall someone over how they voted on a single item is just a shame. Now you’re always going to have that implied threat that if you vote one way on one thing, you could lose your job.”

But Dennis Clinard, leader of the Monroe County Taxpayer’s Relief Committee, said the recall is not designed to set a precedent.

“We don’t run around looking for reasons to recall supervisors,” he said. “We just want to send a message that people care about fiscal responsibility and that you need to listen to people in tough economic times.”

Monroe County leaders have discussed upgrading the jail for more than 15 years, and the addition of another county judge prompted talks about expanding courtroom space. After years of deliberation, the Monroe County Board in February 2008 hired Milwaukee-based Venture Architects to design the justice center, which is to be built in Sparta.

Board members planned to bid the project in February 2009, but the relief committee in December 2008 requested a referendum.

That request was denied, but some supervisors succeeded in placing a hold on construction for four months.

The county has already spent more than $1 million in design fees, and the project is out for bid.

If the eight supervisors up for recall lose their seats in October, a new County Board could put the brakes on the project.

“Look, the fact is no matter what happens, the sun still comes up the next day, and we still have to come to work,” said County Sheriff Dennis Pedersen. “The problem is the cost is only going to get worse the more delay we have.

“A few short years ago, we could’ve done this project for $18 million. Now, because we waited, it’s $30 million.”

Clinard said he and recall supporters understand the need for a new justice center, but it is unfair to ask taxpayers to come up with more money when the area is riddled with layoffs and foreclosures.

“We’re the fourth-poorest county in the state,” he said. “I just think this is an easier sell when the timing isn’t as bad as it is. We just want to wait and see where the economy is going.”

The problem, Pedersen said, is that no one knows where the economy is going, and there always will be people ready to fight the project. In addition, he said, county supervisors and relief committee members have dug in their heels rather than seeking compromise.

So, Pedersen said, he will offer that compromise at the Sept. 30 County Board meeting by suggesting an extended construction moratorium even though, he said, more project delays will only drive up the cost.

“It’s just come to this point where we’ve got to do something, even if it’s wrong,” Peterson said of the growing space issues in the jail and courthouse. “We could just choose to stop everything for up to two years, but in my heart, I don’t think the opposition to this will ever change.”

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