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Commission needs to hear taxpayers’ opinions on jail

Now is the time to pay close attention to what is going on at the county level. For most residents until they physically hold their tax bill in their hands and see an increase or decrease in their taxes, they don’t pay much attention to what happens on the county level. There are times when roads are big issue for a handful of residents or snow removal or permit issues, but it is when the majority of taxpayers are hit that we tend to get involved. Several important issues have been debated in the courthouse in Selby for the past couple of years. The new 2-mile setback for wind turbines is a very contentious situation that has caused some hard feelings between county residents. These situations have occurred throughout history at any given time, in any given county in this country. It is something that happens. But it is up to those we elect to make these decisions to deal with these issues on a factual basis. We put our trust in them to make the right decisions for the majority of the people who live here. They are our voices. So that is why it is vitally important that we make our voices heard when it comes to issues that will impact this county for years to come. During one meeting on the county ordnances, I asked one commissioner what he was hearing form his constituents and he said the vast majority were in favor of the two-mile setback. I asked him if he thought it might be because people knew he was in support of the setback and they wanted to encourage his vote. He denied that. I walked away from that meeting thinking about all of the people who had expressed to me that they were against the new ordinance and wondered why they hadn’t called the commissioners who would be casting their vote for them. Those opposed called. They were vocal and their voices were heard. That is something we need to remember. Now the commission is on the verge of making another decision that will impact all of county taxpayers for the next 20 years and there are commissioners who a leaning towards taking our voices out of this decision. The proposed new jail project is about to come to vote again. It has been debated for years and it is time to move forward. We all know something has to be done. The current situation is a huge problem that needs action, but there are certain aspects of this proposed project that are concerning. The most prominent of those issues is do we need a large facility that meets the needs of the region or a smaller facility that will meet the needs of Walworth County? Do we build a for a 54-bed, 16-juvenile bed center with offices at a cost of $7.8 million, without any extra costs or do we pare that down to a more manageable facility that will house those arrested in our county. The issue that is being debated right now on this proposed facility is whether or not to sign a contract with the Public Safety Facility Services for a 20-year loan. The company would be in charge of building the facility specifications. The title for the facility would belong to the PFIC until the loan is paid in full and the county would rent the facility until that time. The facility would then be sold back to the county for $1 when the last payment has been made. The total payment for this financing option is $9,288,720. This option is the one the majority of commissioners seem to be favoring. But this option is not up to a vote of the people. So that means the taxpayers of this county will be responsible for that annual payment of $464,436 if after the increased cost of operating the larger facility does not eat up the revenue the county receives for housing prisoners from outside of the county. The county auditor, more than once has cautioned the commissioners that the increase in operating cost for the larger facility would be substantial enough for her to worry about it crushing the budget. She has told them it is important to research the operational costs before entering into this agreement. The commission just approved hiring five more full-time employees, which was required to make the working conditions at the current facility safer. Those five new employees will have a substantial impact on a budget that has already had to be supplemented for several years. When the commission votes to approve this option and it would only require a majority vote from the commission to be approved, our opinion doesn’t matter any more. There are three commissioners, Dave Siemon, Jim Houck and Mellissa Miller who have voted in favor of this option in the past. If county residents are worried about how their vote will impact taxpayers, these commissioners need to hear about it and soon.