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State yanks prisoners

The Douglas County Jail may lose state prisoners and state payments to house them in the facility in Superior. The move could strip up to $700,000 from an already bare-bones budget. "It would have a huge impact," Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec...

The Douglas County Jail may lose state prisoners and state payments to house them in the facility in Superior.

The move could strip up to $700,000 from an already bare-bones budget.

"It would have a huge impact," Douglas County Sheriff Tom Dalbec said.

Because state legislators failed to approve a budget, the Corrections Department can't afford to keep prisoners in county jails, department Secretary Rick Raemisch, wrote in a Tuesday letter to Dalbec.

"Without a new budget, the DOC faces a $374 million shortfall for the 2007-2009 biennium," Raemisch wrote.

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On average, the Douglas County jail houses 30 to 45 state inmates a day. Each one nets the county $51.46 per day, said County Finance Director Ann Doucette.

The jail budget for 2007 is $4.9 million, said County Administrator Steve Koszarek. Of that, about $3 million comes from the tax levy. Another $1.6 million was slated to come from housing federal, state and other county inmates, Doucette said, and the rest comes from grants.

"The amount of money we get from selling bed space offsets quite a bit of jail costs," Koszarek said.

The Douglas County Jail, a 219-bed facility, began housing state prisoners in 2005, Dalbec said. At the end of that year, they were pulled back to state prisons. The county housed about 30 state prisoners at the time.

"We were able to absorb most of the cost because St. Louis County was starting to give us more of their (prisoners)," Dalbec said.

The county also houses federal prisoners and inmates from Carlton County, Minn.

Dalbec planned to set up a meeting with Doucette and Koszarek to see what possible cuts could be made to the jail budget.

"There's not a lot of fluff in there," Dalbec said.

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In fact, his proposed budget for 2008 would have eliminated part-time bailiff positions. Through the budget process, however, funding was found to keep the bailiffs.

Dalbec said the DOC letter, while truthful, is probably intended to put political pressure on legislators to pass a budget.

"It sounds like it might be a political ploy," Doucette said.

But, the sheriff said, it would be "foolish" not to plan ahead, although right now the department is setting a budget based on unknowns.

Adding pressure of his own, Dalbec voiced displeasure in Madison lawmakers who remained deadlocked in budget talks.

"They're paid to do a job," he said. "Let's get the job done."

Maria Lockwood covers public safety. E-mail mlockwood@superiortelegram.com or call (715) 395-5025.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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