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Back to drawing board for county bonding projects

The fate of three embattled projects slipped into limbo this week in St. Croix County.

An $8.4 million borrowing package that would have funded a new special-needs wing in the St. Croix County jail, a heating-ventilation-air-conditioning upgrade to the county's government center and a new emergency command vehicle once again failed to generate enough support among County Board members.

Supervisors on Tuesday, June 4, voted 12-4 for the package, though rules called for the measure to garner at least 13 votes to pass. One board member was absent for the vote while two other County Board seats remain vacant; the latest vacancy occurred when Supervisor Andy Brinkman resigned his post effective May 31.

The vote cast greater uncertainty on whether the projects would be funded, but County Administrator Pat Thompson said there might be another path left to try.

He said he plans to present Administration Committee members with a scaled-down package that would jettison the $400,000 command vehicle item from the bonding request. Because rules prevent reconsideration of an identical proposal, he said he might recommend funding the command vehicle through the 2020 capital budget rather than selling bonds to pay for it.

Thompson said the modified request could be offered at the June 17 Administration Committee meeting.

County Board rejected the full $8.4 million package in May, with members lodging various concerns, ranging from replacement of the 20-year-old command vehicle to larger questions about the jail's future.

Tuesday's County Board meeting saw renewed support for the overall bonding package, though not quite enough for passage.

Supervisor Roy Sjoberg, a previous critic, said the intervening weeks gave him time to study the issues and lend support to the full request. He previously wondered why the three items were given priority for funding over other projects.

"Let's take care of it," he told board members Tuesday.

Bob Feidler echoed Sjoberg's support for the command vehicle, saying it's vital to emergency situations in the county.

Board member Judy Achterhof said the command vehicle was the only portion of the request she would support. She was among the four supervisors who voted in opposition.

Also opposing the measure was County Board member Dan Hansen. He said he wasn't convinced of a crucial need to add on to the jail, noting the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office 2018 annual report made reference to hiring a mental health specialist but no call for a new unit to house inmates in crisis.

"We don't see a raging crisis in this report that was given less than a year ago," Hansen said, adding that a new wing could be a premature expense if an entirely new jail facility is in the offing.

If a modified proposal passes Administration Committee, Thompson said County Board could consider it at its August 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. 

(651) 301-7867