Board turnover, budget uncertainty might delay next step for new Kewaunee County jail
KEWAUNEE – The Kewaunee County Board saw and heard the results of phase two of the study for a potential new Public Safety Building at its June 16 meeting.
Now, the board needs to decide not only which plan to pursue but also, after it clearly understands the options, and when it can afford to do so.
The presentation by John Cain of Venture Architects, which conducted the study, was given largely to inform the board's new members — eight of its 20 supervisors were elected to their first terms in April — about the reasons the county is seeking a new facility and the preferred options.
The next step would be for the board, the county's Public Safety Facility Study Committee, law enforcement staff and members of the community to sift through the options offered by Venture and decide how to proceed. If the board chooses to move ahead with one of the options, the study moves into phase three, schematic design work.
"It's more of an investigative thing. Phase three is where we move into the design," Sheriff Matt Joski said. "Right now we're sitting on three options. We need to drill down and say, OK, where are we going?"
But that also means the county would need to approve funding for the work on phase three. That was expected to take place by the end of the year, but Joski and County Administrator Scott Feldt aren't optimistic that will happen.
That's partially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A dramatic loss of tax revenues from closed businesses or delayed property tax payments, among other things, is projected to have a major effect on governmental budgets at all levels. The Wisconsin Policy Forum reported in May that counties in the state may be harder hit because of the loss of sales tax revenues, increased demand for health services and possible cuts in state aid.
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The uncertainty over what the 2021 budget might look like has Joski thinking the county will have unexpected extra time to decide on the plan — the cost of phase three would be 7% of the projected total for whichever option is selected. But he wants to make sure a potential delay doesn't see the project fall by the wayside.
"I don't think we'll be moving this forward this year," Joski said. "We've got to stand back economically and look at where we are this year. I don't think we're in a place where we're going to move forward this year, but we want to keep it alive, keep the conversation going."
Feldt, though, said if phase three is delayed until 2021, it's mainly because of the 40% turnover the County Board experienced in the April elections. He said he feels the county has run on a tight budget for a number of years and should be able to weather any financial storm the pandemic inflicts on government budgets.
Feldt said projected county sales tax revenues for 2020 were $1.2 million, but the county traditionally budgets to use a little less, $1.1 million this year. Thus, if sales taxes drop by the 10% to 15% being projected, the end result remains close to what the county planned to use. He's also optimistic the county will receive the state aid it's supposed to get for 2020.
Regarding the jail study, Feldt said it's important to spend the next few months making sure the new board members are up to speed so they can make an informed decision on the options for the new facility. The time also gives the county more opportunity to let the public know what it's getting for its taxes.
"You're talking about a project that'll be in the tens of millions of dollars," Feldt said. "With a sense of the economy — not just for tax revenues but county taxpayers — the last thing we want to do is rush this through … I think what you'll see in the next few months is more of an educational process, making sure the County Board is comfortable with it and the public understands what it's getting."
Joski also said any delay gives both the new supervisors and the public more time to digest the information in the study and make educated choices.
"Let's take this time and use it wisely," Joski said. "If we're going to stop and reassess, I want to make sure people have the right information."
The presentation to the board recommended an option that would build a new Public Safety Building (including the county jail, 911 call center and sheriff's department offices) at a different location than the current facility. It would replace the 52-year-old building — which is outdated and has maintenance, design, safety and long-term capacity issues — with a single-story, 52-bed pod design for the jail that is also expandable to 88 beds, if necessary.
The pod design has jail staff in a central location with cells arrayed around them for easier observation, instead of the current jail's linear design with cells running the length of a hallway.
"The pod design is the most efficient. It's kind of the industry standard," Joski said.
Other options are to build the Public Safety Building or just a new jail on the site of the current building, but Venture Architects didn't recommend those, in part because the available space would require a three-story building that would be incur higher construction costs and require more staff.
The study also looked at a fourth option, abandoning the jail and sending inmates to jails in other counties, but there are a limited number of nearby counties accepting inmates from elsewhere, along with the cost and added transportation and logistical issues.
The recommended option has a projected cost of between $32.1 million and $35.4 million, about the same as building a new facility at the current site. The 7% cost to move into phase three of either project would be about $230,000.
Joski reiterated that the county and its residents need to be comfortable with whichever option they select.
"There isn't just one way," Joski said. "There are a lot of options based on what a community feels it needs, both from a compliance standpoint but also to make sure it's effective."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Board turnover, budget uncertainty might delay next step for new Kewaunee County jail