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Commission pushed to make jail decisions soon

Walworth County Commissioners Thursday, Feb. 22, discussed finalizing plans for the proposed jail project to present to the taxpayers before the election in November.
The discussion on this project has been ongoing for several years and commissioners have researched many options, working with an architect firm and several jail consultants on the project. The plans have evolved over the years with the number of beds needed in the new facility and what type of facility needed not yet decided upon. Several options including a stand-alone building or adding on to the current facility have been presented.
On Thursday, it was reported that the jail committee had decided to accept a proposal from EAPC Architects and Engineers of Sioux Falls for $25,525 for a schematic design of the facility for a 50-bed facility and one for a 70-bed facility. The firm will also research whether these facility will fit on the courthouse lot. Costs of each of these projects will be part of the EAPC presentation.
Commissioner Kevin Holgard asked if these schematics would be able to be presented to the taxpayers of Walworth County. He said this information should be presented to the people at several public meetings before the November election to allow the taxpayers to see on what the commission is asking them to spend their money.
He said the commission needed to present this information, including the project costs to the public in order for them to make an informed decision in November.
“The building is the cheapest part of this whole business,” he said. “The operational cost is what is going to blow them out of the water. We need to get all of this to the people so they can see what they are voting on. We will need an answer one way or the other.”
Walworth County State’s Attorney Jamie Hare told the group they needed to get more refined numbers before they take the project to a vote in November.
“We need give the public specific design, location and costs, so this group needs to decide on how many beds we want,” Hare said. “We need to get to the point that we can show them the cost within five percent of the actual cost.”

County jail only
Commissioner Scott Schilling told the group that although they are paying Brad Hompe as a jail consultant, he is not from Walworth County.
“I don’t know why we don’t do some thinking for ourselves,” he said. “Why does it have to be a 50- or 70-bed facility?”
He asked them why they didn’t consider a facility to fit the needs for Walworth County or if the taxpayers of Walworth County should foot the bill for a regional jail.
New commissioner Marion Schlomer asked for specific revenue numbers for housing out-of-county inmates. He said he didn’t think the taxpayers of Walworth County would approve of having a $10 million bill hanging over them while the cost to other counties didn’t cover the cost of housing inmates.
Commission Dave Siemon told Schlomer the revenue for housing prisoners was $615,640 in 2016 and $468,225 in 2015.
The charge for housing prisoners at the facility is $95 for other counties; $80 for BIA inmates and $65 a day for federal inmates.
Schlomer said he didn’t have a problem with building a new facility, but he wanted to be able to present to the taxpayers a solid comparison of revenue versus operational costs because the taxpayers won’t accept it.
County assistant Ryan Badten told the group that the operational costs of housing prisoners is not that much more expensive than what the cost is now because the new facility can be manned by the same amount of employees as the current facility.
Schilling pointed out that when the additional five employees were hired for the current facility as was recommended by Hompe that the taxpayers of Walworth County shouldered the burden of that additional cost and it was not passed on to the other counties.
The commissioners approved paying EAPC for the designs, but Holgard pushed for presenting that information to the public with community meetings before the November election.
The decision to put the project on the November ballot was tabled until further into process.

Feb. 9 meeting
Holgard told the group he wanted to go on the record to say that none of the threats that were attributed to customers of his business at the Friday, Feb. 9 meeting came from his business.
He also told the board that other comments made by former Walworth County Sheriff Duane Mohr at that meeting were false. He said none of the threats made during phone calls to auditor Becky Krein were felonious.
Holgard said he wanted to clear the air about the incident.
Schilling added that when he said he agreed with what was said at the meeting he was agreeing that Krein should not have been subjected to that type of treatment, and he was not agreeing with all that Mohr had said.
The tape of this meeting and all other commissioner meetings can be viewed at http://walworthco.org/ and click on the Quick Links button at the right of the page.
– Katie Zerr –