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Key panel backs St. Croix County jail expansion project

St. Croix County Board members next month will decide the fate of an $8.4 million borrowing package that would fund three projects including an expansion of the county jail.

On a split vote Monday, April 15, Administration Committee members approved the proposal, which would update the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system in the St. Croix Government Center and replace the county's 20-year-old mobile command vehicle — in addition to the jail project.

Supporters of the funding package included Administration Committee Chairman David Peterson, who said the jail project was overdue.

"This is really getting to be a problem with some of these prisoners," he said.

The project would create a special-needs unit in the jail's gymnasium space, where 10 specially designed cells would accommodate inmates experiencing issues ranging from mental health crises to substance withdrawal symptoms.

Sheriff Scott Knudson told committee members how the need for such a unit — which would diminish the opportunity for violent episodes involving inmates and staff — remains a priority. He said several attacks on jailers, along with a recent incident that left a jail doctor injured "underscores the need for an area where the contact with them" is better controlled.

The lion's share of the $8.43 million borrowing package goes to the jail expansion, which comes with a $5.3 million price tag. The HVAC project would cost $2.5 million and a new command vehicle would cost about $400,000.

That brings the proposal to about $8.2 million. Ehlers and Associates senior municipal adviser Sean Lentz told committee members the full $8.43 million amount includes funds to pay for issuing the bonds. The funds would be raised by selling government obligation bonds, which would be repaid over 20 years.

St. Croix County Board Supervisor Roy Sjoberg cast the dissenting vote, while fellow supervisors Peterson, Nancy Hable and Dan Fosterling voted in support of the measure.

Sjoberg said that while he didn't oppose the projects in the borrowing package, he was concerned other projects weren't up for consideration. He cited water quality and county parks as possible sources in line for funding.

"I don't think it's inclusive enough," Sjoberg said.

County Administrator Pat Thompson vouched for the projects in the package under consideration, saying "this has been thoroughly scrubbed at the staff level and comes with my endorsement."

"These three projects are high priorities," Thompson said. "We do have a crisis in the jail."

Committee members discussed the concept of using funds from the eventual sale of the county highway building in Hammond to put toward the $8.4 million borrowing project. Thompson said that could be considered after that eventuality comes to pass — a process that began later in the meeting when the committee voted to list the Hammond property.

The full County Board will next consider the $8.43 million bonding package at its May 7 meeting.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is a regional/enterprise reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage includes St. Croix County government, higher education and state politics in Wisconsin. 

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