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Reader Letters | February 25, 2010

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SHADY STRATEGY FOR TAXPAYERS ON DOWNTOWN JAIL?
    The strategy now is to deny that the county board ever attempted to plan for future development on the current site and to assert that “we do not know what the future will bring.” The sheer size of the long-term plan is what brought down the last attempt to place the new jail on top of Second Avenue. The fact is that once that jail is in place, all future development will have to be on that site, no matter what the size or the cost of the development, originally predicted to be $121 million.

The strategy is also to bring the issue to a referendum, asking the voter “Which do you want, the ‘cheap alternative‘ [an on-site jail] or the ‘really expensive’ alternative which will cost more [a complete off-site justice center]?” Any time you ask taxpayers whether they will consent to an increase in property tax, the answer will be “No.” The property tax increase has already been levied to support the $59.1 million proposal for an on-site jail; the taxpayers were not consulted about that. But now the county board will ask the taxpayers for their consent to an increase, not telling the taxpayers that they are choosing between committing to Phase 1 of an expensive plan and all three phases in a complete justice center, ignoring the fact that the off-site building can be done in phases also.

The real experts will tell us that the actual cost of the complete justice center off-site is about $70-$75 million (as compared with $121 million for the on-site estimate). So, the real choice is between $121 million and $75 million. The real choice is between slapping one more extension onto the current building, without regard for future consequences, and planning for the future responsibly. Once more, the strategy is to “hose the taxpayers,” to hoodwink them by using a “bait-and-switch” tactic.  If the county really wants to have public opinion, why not have the option of “none of the above” or the cheapest option of all, renovation of Huber and the jail, for $3 million? I do not support either one of those, but they are certainly choices taxpayers could have to save in property taxes. Although we hear that the county board wants to be transparent on this issue, we have yet to see that transparency rather than pure manipulation.

– Nick Smiar, Eau Claire

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