At a time when it seems government is marked by acrimony and ill will, I’m proud of all the Dane County Board accomplished over the past year.
A lot of Dane County's work is under the radar, from operating the regional airport and plowing county roads to providing services for seniors and the disabled.
But in 2017, the board tackled some very high-profile issues, including a badly needed renovation of our jail and a new approach to improving water quality. Before we ring in 2018, let me take a moment to highlight some of the successes of the past year:
• After much thought and planning, we approved a $76-million renovation of the downtown Public Safety Building as part of the new capital budget.
This measured approach will consolidate jail operations in one location while closing two other facilities. Most importantly it will finally remove the outdated and unsafe 1950s jail on the top floors of the City-County Building.
We also took the unprecedented step of reducing the number of jail beds by nearly 100. Rather than locking more people up, the county is working to identify approaches to improve racial equity, decrease length of stay in the jail and appropriately treat those with mental health needs.
The county has also responded with crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers, a community restorative justice court and a pretrial safety assessment tool, and will soon implement a judicial option allowing community service.
Moving forward, we will continue to seek out and implement national best practices to intervene at each step of the criminal justice system to keep people out of jail if possible.
• To provide added protection for the Yahara Lakes, the County Board this year created the Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Task Force. Comprised of appointees representing environmental concerns, agriculture and government agencies, the group is holding regular public meetings and will offer ways to protect water quality and the agricultural economy in the county.
Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes is creating a greater community understanding of the best practices and policies for managing farmland. The group will play off earlier work on reducing phosphorus in the watershed while including farmers in seeking a long-term solution.
In the 2018 budget, the board also added a new position to the Land and Water Resources Department to address lake management. The position would help with implementation of policy recommendations from the task force.
• Programs managed by the Department of Human Services comprise about half of the $538 million county operating budget and this year we beefed up programs for children, seniors and families.
The new budget includes additional funding for the Early Childhood Zones at Leopold Elementary School in Madison and in Sun Prairie. Also, the board provided funding for the Today Not Tomorrow Family Resource Center, which serves families with young children and pregnant mothers. Additionally, we added funding for case management for seniors.
• The county-owned Alliant Energy Center (AEC) is arguably our greatest economic development opportunity and this year we moved forward on plans to redevelop the 164-acre campus.
A report from the AEC Master Planning Oversight Committee put a major focus on improving connections between the center, the community and Lake Monona while making it a destination of choice for both residents and visitors. It also said a redeveloped Alliant Energy Center would draw more events to Dane County while creating opportunities for adjacent neighborhoods in south Madison.
Those are just a few of the highlights of 2017. As always, my colleagues and I on the Dane County Board welcome and appreciate your feedback as move forward in the coming year.
Sharon Corrigan of Middleton chairs the 37-member Dane County Board.
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