Monroe County Board to vote on justice center - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Monroe County Board to vote on justice center


SPARTA, WISCONSIN (WXOW)-- The Monroe County Board will vote on a series of five resolutions Tuesday night, in an effort to establish a new justice center.

The project would include a new 180 bed jail and courthouse at a cost of about $28 million. The resolution that would authorize the county to borrow that money, requires a three-fourths majority to pass.

"The courthouse has been an issue since about 1997," said Judge David Rice, a Monroe County Circuit Court judge.

Rice says the inadequate courthouse space impacts the efficiency of the justice system.

"You have a tremendous waste of staff time. You have district attorneys running up and down between four floors," Rice said.

Monroe County has three judges but only two courtrooms. So the old county board meeting room was converted to a courtroom. However, there's not jury box and prisoners are brought in through public hallways. And it's not just the courthouse that has inadequate space.

"We are always at capacity in the Monroe County Jail," said Pete Quirin, the Monroe County Sheriff. "Plus we are keeping another 50 prisoners in Vernon County and probably about 17 down in Juneau County."

It costs about $600,000 a year to keep the prisoners in other counties, and another $100,000 to transport them back and forth to court. But the sheriff says it's not just a lack of space that makes the jail out dated.

"The old style cable operated cell doors, they're in a constant state of repair, they're operated by levers, there's nothing electronic about them and they get suck," Quirin said. "And sometimes if we have a situation where we have to get in to an inmate in a hurry, sometimes those doors won't work."

The total cost of the new justice center is $28 million, which amounts to a tax increase of about $81 on a $100,000 home.

"I think we'd be doing a disservice to the tax payers if we built a cheaper project and essentially kicked this problem down the road," Rice said.

The new justice center would likely be built downtown, next to the existing courthouse, which is the location chosen by voters in a referendum earlier this year.

If the new justice center is approved, Rice says the old building will likely be converted to county offices.

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