‘It would delay the project even further’: Dane Co. Executive Parisi vetoes jail amendment in 2023 County Budget

MADISON, Wis. — Dane County Executive Joe Parisi signed the 2023 County Budget on Wednesday, setting aside more than $850 million for work around the area.

“The past few years of a pandemic, and more recently poverty exacerbated by inflation, serve as frank reminders of the need to always plan for tomorrow,” Parisi said. “The 2023 Dane County budget builds upon the work we’ve done over the past decade.”

RELATED: Dane County Executive Parisi unveils $834 million budget for 2023

Not everything on the budget passed, however. Parisi vetoed an amendment to abandon a proposed six-story jail in favor of a five-story building.

“It was pretty much universally agreed upon, you know, between folks in law enforcement and others who are looking at it, that it would not close the City-County Building jail, and it would delay the project even further,” he told News 3 Now Wednesday. “The concern was just that the version that was passed was too small, and would be obsolete the day it opened.”

Multiple board members believed five stories was a more appropriate size for the future when they expect programs like the CARES response team and Community Court and Community Justice will keep more people out of jail.

“It’s the responsible thing to do to house fewer people,” said County Board Chair Patrick Miles. “And in so doing we also would save millions and millions of dollars for taxpayers each year over the life of the project.”

The county approved the six-story plan earlier this year. The current City-County Building jail has come under fire for safety concerns, and the county was forced to close a portion of the facility earlier this year.

While the five-story proposal would have delayed the closing of the current jail building and the construction of a new one, Miles said “getting the project done is the priority, and if it means adding a few months to it to get it right, so be it.”

The vetoed amendment mirrored a proposal from the County Board’s Black Caucus, which would have lowered the cost of the new jail but eliminated 100 beds and an entire floor from the planned facility. Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said the caucus’ plan was unsustainable.

READ MORE: Dane Co. Sheriff responds to Black Caucus jail renovation plans

Barrett said he was disappointed that the amendment passed in the first place, saying it put those living and working in the CCB jail at risk.

“The five-story proposal is a costly compromise of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office principles, values, long-term objectives and agency welfare,” a statement from Barrett’s office read.

In a memo explaining his veto, Parisi said the design work for the six-story jail will be completed soon and that stopping the work would be “irresponsible” and “wasteful.”

“The priority from the beginning has been closing the City-County Building Jail,” Parisi said. “As of today, there’s only one project being designed that accomplishes that fundamental goal.”

The Dane County Deputy Sheriff’s Association President, Deputy Brian Tuescher, also backed Parisi’s veto, calling it the right decision to stick with the six-story plan.

“Closing the inhumane City-County Building (Jail) should be done as soon as possible,” Tuescher said. “Approval, design changes and other unforeseen issues of an alternate five-story project would only delay that closure and increase the cost of the entire project.”

Parisi’s office says the decision to veto the jail amendment has no impact on funding for the project, with all previously-approved money remaining “intact and available.”

The County Executive’s veto today relating to the Dane County Jail Project has no impact on funding for the project. All previously approved dollars for the Jail Consolidation Project remain intact and available. The veto addresses a request by the County Board to stop design work on the Jail Consolidation Project. The net effect of this partial veto is that work on the previously approved version of the Jail Consolidation Project will continue to move forward.

Other budget highlights

Parisi’s budget adds up to $853 million spent on housing, mental health support, conservation and other projects. That includes $6 million for a men’s homeless shelter in Madison on Bartillon Drive. The move brings the county’s total contribution to the shelter to $9 million.

The county will also create a new Department of Justice Reform and Equity, which is intended to connect agencies in the criminal justice system to make reforms.

The new budget includes a combined $7.5 million for the Farm to Foodbank program and River Food Pantry, two initiatives that combat food insecurity in the county.

There is also a $4.5 million investment to develop and install carbon capture technology around the county and create a position in the Department of Waste and Renewables to help the county work towards carbon neutrality.

Over $15 million was put toward completing road improvement projects in the county.