Who has control over the Lincoln County Safety Building? This question has been bandied about among government officials for the past several months, but no concrete answer has evolved. And, as it did six months ago, the simple question is causing the spending of even more taxpayer dollars in an ongoing turf war.
The issue dates back to June when Lincoln County took the matter to court. The Law Enforcement Committee had set a deadline for the Finance Department to vacate the Safety Building. That committee needed the space the non-law enforcement agency was filling in order to move forward with renovations that would meet state jail inspection standards. When elected representatives failed to take action to relocate the Finance Department, Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Koth wrote a letter to the Finance Department and its related committee indicating he was under the obligation to follow his oversight committee's instructions. Furthermore, the sheriff noted, the entire building was under his control as outlined by the state constitution.
The actions of Koth and the Law Enforcement Committee didn't sit well with the Administrative and Legislative Committee. That entity held an emergency meeting where members expressed their disagreement that Koth had control over the Safety Building. That committee decided to call in legal representatives to sort out the issue. Within days, Koth, Law Enforcement Committee members and Lincoln County Board Chair E. Richard Simon found themselves in Marathon County Circuit Court. The judge granted a temporary injunction halting relocation of the Finance Department and quashing any renovations to the Safety Building. Despite the courtroom drama, no one ever decided who had control over the Safety Building.
Since then, the Law Enforcement Committee reconstructed Safety Building upgrade plans to include the Finance Department. Renovations estimated at $225,000 to the facility's basement were approved by the County Board and are already underway. It seems the Law Enforcement Committee made a compromise for county government to work together as a whole. Therefore, one could deduce that county government as a whole will pay for the renovations.
But this isn't how the renovation bill has been addressed. Rather, a few county officials have determined that since the Safety Building is indeed the sheriff's facility, the $225,000 in renovations should be taken from only the sheriff's department jail assessment fund.
We are forced to question: If county officials first debated that the sheriff had no control over the Safety Building a few months ago, why is it strictly his department's responsibility to foot the bill to upgrade the building today?
The Finance and Insurance Committee recently approved a payment plan. The up-front $225,000 could be paid from the county's general fund but the sheriff's department has to pay it back within 10 years from the jail assessment fund. The department will not be charged interest. While the offer is friendly, Law Enforcement Committee members are rightfully questioning the Safety Building's funding source. If the Safety Building is indeed county-controlled, why wouldn't general county coffers pay for the project instead of depleting one departmental source?
Perhaps Lincoln County should determine who has control over the facility so it can make a reasonable decision on where the upgrade monies - our tax dollars - should come from.