LAIC leadership shows strong support for jail project

Lake County Sheriff Tim Walburg shows a drawing of a possible new jail site.

By Mary Gales Askren, Staff Reporter, courtesy of Madison Daily Leader

The Lake County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday morning to support a recommendation by the Public Safety Building Advisory Committee to continue exploring the option of building a new jail off-site and of renovating the Public Safety Building for use by the state's attorney and 911 communications center.

Pivotal in the advisory committee's decision to make this recommendation was an offer by the Lake Area Improvement Corporation. County Sheriff Tim Walburg reported to both the committee and the commission that LAIC had offered to sell the county 7.7 acres north of SD-34 for a new jail.

The selling price quoted for the area west of Highway 34 Customs Inc. was $1.

The commission's vote does not bind the county to this project. Rather, it allows the advisory committee and county employees to continue exploring the issues related to the project, which will in turn allow commissioners -- and county residents, if the matter goes to a vote -- to make an informed decision.

At Monday night's advisory committee meeting, Walburg reviewed the four options which were under consideration, including three that involved expanding at the current location. Parking, higher constructions costs and the geothermal field were three major concerns which arose in discussing an expansion.

Walburg said he and Madison Police Chief Justin Meyer began to explore possible locations for a new facility, which led him to make a presentation to the LAIC board. He considered the meeting to be informational and did not expect any action as a result.

"At the end of the meeting, I was told they would have an offer by the end of the week," Walburg said.

Instead, he heard from the board 15 minutes later with the offer he reported. LAIC has already done much of the preliminary work, including plotting and surveying the land, and doing soil bores.

After receiving the offer, Walburg began to gather information which he shared with the committee and commissioners. He met with Madison Utility Director Brad Lawrence to locate existing infrastructure and identify project needs.

"The infrastructure is already very close to where this property is at," Walburg said.

The city is already considering water and sewer projects which would dovetail nicely with the jail project, he said. Getting power to the site would also be "no big deal" because of nearby switch boxes, he indicated.

Walburg had some concerns about the slope of the land, but in talking with individuals with excavating experience, he learned that there would be enough earth moved to "groom the other areas." A culvert for storm drainage would probably be necessary, which would cost approximately $15,000.

Another concern was the access road. Walburg said the existing access road is considered by the state Department of Transportation to be a shared access road and could be widened to meet the needs of the jail.

"It's a very reasonable offer for us to consider," Walburg told commissioners prior to their vote.

In making the recommendation, the advisory committee also considered operational costs. Walburg indicated the numbers provided by Shive Hattery were not definitive, but were instead rough estimates, which could be adjusted somewhat in coming months as issues such as staffing were clarified.

If the county were to do nothing, Shive Hattery projected the cost over the next 30 years would be approximately $69,582,000. Included in this would be the cost of transporting prisoners to other counties and paying for housing.

Based on the condition of the current facility, the county might be forced to close the jail in three to five years, Walburg reported.

If the county were to pursue the option which was recommended by the advisory committee, Shive Hattery projected the cost over the next 30 years would be an estimated $62,941,000. This includes construction costs, financing costs, operational costs, utilities and maintenance, and minimal other costs such as transportation.

"Essentially, it's a savings to the county," Walburg told commissioners.

The advisory committee is proceeding under the assumption that the matter will go to a public vote. Currently, they are planning to include a ballot with the November general election.

Shelli Gust, county administrative officer, reported that original cost estimates for the project were based on a fall 2018 bid time. However, if the matter goes to a vote in November, the project will be bid in spring 2019. As a result of inflation, the project could cost approximately 2.5 to 3 percent more than initially indicated.

Gust said she obtained this information from Steve Davis, the project architect.

At Monday night's meeting of the advisory committee, Moody County Commissioner Jerry Doyle indicated his county would be interested in sharing the construction costs. In addition, the possibility of moving the Madison Police Department to the jail site was raised.

These are two of the related issues which will be discussed in coming months. In addition, the committee and county staff will begin exploring financing options for the projects and will engage in a public awareness and education campaign.

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