Public Safety Center Vote Set for November 4th

The cost is almost the same, but there is a major difference in this vote. The Winnebago County Public Safety Center will once again come up for a vote on November 4th, but this time there are changes. First is the most obvious in that it will not have the cooperation of the Forest City Police Department. In a City Council discussion, Forest City Mayor Rick Skjeie pressed the council for a decision on the matter, but the council wanted to see costs involved in locating in the proposed facility. Items such as utility costs, rent, and other costs consumed the council who wanted specific numbers before committing to the project. At the city council meeting, the discussion was lengthy, but cautious. City Administrator Mac Tilberg encouraged the council to act:

Councilmember Tony Mikes had a personal preference that the city have its own police department separate from the future county facility. Mayor Rick Skjeie told the council that the cost to the city for 3,400 square feet which would be the city’s section of the project, would run in the $400,000 range, but the city would have full access to the same facilities as the county.

City Council

Councilmember Ron Holland wanted to see other options explored, particularly using the old Fire Station or remodeling the police station. His concerns revolved around the depletion of the city’s General Fund :

Tilberg was quick to point out the efficiency of having the two law enforcement agencies in one facility:

By cost comparison, the Emergency Services Center, which also holds two departments, Ambulance and Fire, is costing over $1.5 million to construct as opposed to the city’s cost to into the Public Safety Center which would be around $450,000.

Because the city would not commit to being a part of the project, the Winnebago County Public Safety Committee moved forward leaving the option for the city to join after the construction of the facility. This will give the city time to weigh options and decide whether to move into the facility later.

Inside the Winnebago County Jail
Inside the Winnebago County Jail

The committee was made aware of several structural and inspection violations of the current county jail. With this in mind, the committee moved forward with a possible replacement to the jail which would be included in the new proposal coming up for a vote. The proposal creates a 22 bed facility, like the last proposal which was narrowly defeated on March 4th. Committee members cited that the state will eventually mandate that the county do something to replace the current jail and this seemed to be the best and most cost effective option.

Another major diffence from the spring referendum is the size of the facility. The building is now smaller than before at 16,500 square feet. The committee paired down several items on the first blueprint for the new proposal  in order to make the facility even more efficient.

With the changes comes a reduction in cost to the county for the construction of the facility. The March referendum was projected to cost $5 million. The Novemebr referendum is projected to be nearly $4.5 million. Winnbago County Supervisor Terry Durby was quick to point out that if the facility had just holding cells, the cost was $3.6 million, but it still left the county with a jail that did not meet state codes for occupancy.