Study of stand-alone law enforcement center endorsed by county committee
BY MIKE WARREN
STEVENS POINT — A separate sheriff’s department and jail on a green space away from the downtown – and maybe even beyond city limits – is the latest effort in the saga that has become the struggle over how to address safety and security concerns and jail overcrowding.
“I heard the county board loud and clear and I’ve heard the public loud and clear,” Sheriff Mike Lukas told Portage County’s Space and Properties Committee, during its June 6 meeting. “I’ve also heard staff throughout the county loud and clear, so I’m pushing for the jail and the sheriff’s office to move out to relocation,” Lukas added. “We’ve already done the work. We spent three- to five-hundred thousand dollars with our vendors. I think we need to move forward with the progression of this. And I think that if we sit and do nothing, and waste this valuable taxpayer’s money that we’ve already spent, I think that it’s a travesty.”
“There’s ten people on the county board that have shown us that they don’t care about the safety and they don’t care about cost, so we’re gonna be in the exact same position again,” said committee member Matt Jacowski, during the June 6 discussion. “The green site would’ve provided a safer site and those ten people said ‘no,’ so they’re gonna dig their heels in again and say ‘no’ and we’re gonna sit and spin our wheels,” Jacowski added.
In case you are new to this debate, the Portage County Board of Supervisors, on April 18, voted 15-10 in favor of constructing a new, all-inclusive Justice Center – Portage County Sheriff’s Department, jail and county courthouse – on greenfield space which has yet to be selected. However, the funding mechanism to pay for it all – $180 million in borrowing – was rejected by the county board two weeks later, with a 14-10 vote on May 2.
That indecision – supporting the concept but not the cost – has left some county officials scratching their heads and scrambling for a solution, and others – like Sheriff Lukas – nervous.
“It’s a priority to me, for my staff, for my inmates, safety and security,” Lukas said. “I will be very boisterous if we waste three- to five-hundred-thousand dollars.”
“We have to take a different approach because the first one failed,” said Space and Properties Committee Chairman Donald Jankowski. “We cannot sit here and do nothing. We have to do something,” Jankowski added.
Now that the committee has decided – with one “no” vote – to develop a concept for the cost of a jail and sheriff’s department on green space separate from the downtown courthouse, it will be Procurement Director Chris Schultz’s job to work with the county’s vendors on that plan.
“I would like to be able to work with them to set a path for what the next steps are,” Schultz told committee members. “I could go back to them and ask them to help us form another plan, help us bring back to you what that plan might cost to implement, so that they can bring you back some quality information,” he added. “I would tell you, in my opinion, all the vendors have done the work we expected for them to do up to this point.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Portage County Executive John Pavelski, when asked for his opinion on the committee’s direction. “We’ve got to keep moving things forward. I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Pavelski said. “I think in the next few days, few weeks, things will start to come together. And there’s a lot of questions that we need to get answered and those are coming to a head, which is great. Kind of been waiting on some of those things. I think that if we’re going to go down this road, I think maybe we do need to take a different approach, though, when it comes to the (county) board, if we’re going to try and allocate money for architects and design,” he added. “Last time when this concept came forward we were too far into it to change gears. Let’s ask for the money first,” said Pavelski. “Before we spend any more money with architects and engineers and everybody else, let’s lay it out. ‘Here’s what we think everything is. This is our plan going forward. This is where we’re gonna put it. This is what we want to build. This is what we think it’ll cost. Yes or no?’ If it goes, okay. Otherwise, we go ahead and we start spending money on engineering again, and we do the same thing, so I want to switch it around and make sure that we have it (funding) before we go ahead and start the engineering process and the design process.”
The committee also endorsed a motion to develop a cost and concept plan for various capital improvement projects at the County/City Courthouse Building and a separate motion indicating the committee’s intentions to create a single point of entrance to that facility.