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Dane County Jail project could land on a referendum

Dane County’s jail reconstruction project may be headed for a fall referendum.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Sheriff Kalvin Barrett on Monday called for a public referendum on this November’s ballot to fund the additional dollars needed for the jail reconstruction project to move forward.

The referendum is needed to close a funding gap that needs to be bridged for the project to be put out to bid on time. The county currently has approved $165.9 million for the jail reconstruction. Recent cost estimates however project the actual dollar amount needed before bids can be let is closer to $175.7 million. Given the impact of inflation on goods and services, officials are concerned the cost of construction will only continue to increase as the project remains unresolved.

“Time is not on our side and after exploring options for close to a decade, the best and frankly only feasible plan is to put the jail to a public vote this fall,” Parisi said in a news release.

He noted three quarters of the 37 member Dane County Board would have to support adding the $10 million needed for the jail project to move forward.

“This project is at a crossroads and we have come too far not to finish the job and fund the work that many years of analysis shows is needed and frankly overdue,” Barrett said in a news release. “For us to get the highest quality contractors and bidders, we as a county need to send a clear signal that we support a safer, more humane jail facility.”

Barrett noted that further reductions to the jail’s design – which as proposed already eliminates more than 100 cells from the current jail’s size – would jeopardize public safety.

A referendum on the jail could be approved by a simple majority vote of the County Board. That resolution would need to be passed by August for the jail question to appear on this fall’s ballot.

“Funds need to be approved and then the project put out to bid before dollars previously OKed for the jail sunset,” Parisi said. “We are running out of time to get this done. The jail project can’t afford another 10 months of political machinations and maneuvering.”

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