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Staffing a concern in new jail discussion

Building a multi-million dollar facility is just half the discussion when you talk about the prospect of a new jail in Kewaunee County. While the building will be paid off eventually, the cost of operating a larger, newer facility will continue to stick around. In the current facility, the jailers double as dispatchers, a concept that is unique when you look across the state and compare how other counties staff their jail facilities. It is something the county will not be able to do moving forward, which means the county will likely have to supersede its current tax levy limits in order to reach minimal staffing levels at a new facility. Kewaunee County Sheriff Matt Joski admits it is not an easy decision for anybody, but it is something that needs to be done.

The Kewaunee County Board will discuss how to proceed with the new jail facility, including its capital and operational costs, when it meets on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the administration center in Kewaunee for its scheduled meeting.



Last week I shared an update regarding the Jail Facility project and the options that are available to the County Board. I want to express my appreciation for all of those who have been involved with the planning process thus far and will support whatever decision the board makes regarding the next steps. In this article I would like to discuss another critical component of this project, which are the operational costs. For anyone who has been part of a facility improvement initiative, you know that the building itself represents only one facet of the overall long term cost. In fact I would say that the building while representing a significant upfront cost is not as significant as the operational costs as those are ongoing throughout the life span of that given facility.


In the case of a new Kewaunee County Jail, one of the most significant operational costs will be the staffing. You might ask why Kewaunee County is any different than other counties in this respect. The reason is that in Kewaunee County we have staffed our current facility in a very unique way having our Jailers serve as our Dispatchers and our Dispatchers serve as our Jailers. What this means in practical terms is that instead of having four posts (Two Jailers/ Two Dispatchers) we have had two posts (Two Jailer/Dispatchers). In moving forward we are not able to continue in this practice so the transition from current minimal staffing to future minimal staffing is a bigger transition than a county who had already been operating with a normal staffing model.


So you may ask; what does this matter to me as a resident of Kewaunee County? It matters because it will be very difficult to add the necessary staffing to get to the minimal staffing levels without superseding our current tax levy limits. We have been operating under levy limits now for over a decade and each year over the past decade; the Sheriff’s Department along with other County Departments have cut budgets along with staff to remain under that limit. In simple terms; there is no meat left on the bones of our current budgets to absorb this cost increase.


So as I stated in last week’s article, if the County Board would choose to move forward without a referendum on the building it would save the taxpayers’ money, however, we are still faced with the real possibility of having a referendum in the fall election to ask you the tax payers for permission to raise our levy limit so as to properly staff and operate the new facility.


This is not an action or a choice which we will arrive at easily. Just as in the building planning process, the planning and discussion of operational costs have also been extensive and the gravity of the outcome is in the forefront of our minds. While no one likes to see an increase to their property taxes (Myself included), we cannot take on the liability and risk of occupying this new facility with inappropriate staffing levels.


I write this article to share our current state of discussions and by no means have any decisions been made regarding this very important decision. I can guarantee you though that I, along with my staff, the County Administrator and the members of our county board will do what we can to find a balance between cost savings and facility functionality. I look forward to any input our community has regarding this matter. You can always reach me on cell phone at (920)255-1100

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