The Dane County Board is considering several key additions to the proposed 2017 budget including funding for an expansion of the restorative justice initiative and a jail diversion program to emphasize community service over incarceration for low-level offenders.
Amendments reviewed over the past month by the standing committees of the County Board are under review in the budget-writing Personnel and Finance Committee and may be included in the almost $585 million operating budget. The final budget will come before the full County Board for consideration by mid-November.
“Every year there are many worthwhile programs competing for support, and I think the Board has worked very hard to balance those needs with what taxpayers can actually afford,” said Supervisor Jenni Dye, Chair of the Personnel and Finance Committee.
One high-profile initiative is the expansion of the Community Restorative Court (CRC) throughout the entire county. The program — designed keep young people out of the traditional criminal justice system by making amends with victims — has been used successfully in South Madison but will now be available across all of Dane County.
Supervisor Sheila Stubbs of Madison sponsored a $61,000 amendment to expand the voluntary CRC program to provide an alternative to prosecution for low-level offenses committed by those ages 17 to 25. Being charged with a crime results in a listing in the state CCAP system, an electronic database often used by potential employers and landlords.
“The County Board understands that it takes vision, coupled with hard work, to improve the criminal justice system and thereby change lives for the better,” said Stubbs. “The Community Restorative Court started small and will expand countywide in 2017. By bringing participants together with victims and community peacemakers, the county is repairing harm, reducing risk, and rebuilding the community. The Dane County Community Restorative Court will enlist restorative justice principles and practices.”
The Personnel and Finance Committee is also considering a $75,000 initiative to expand use of community service as a post-conviction alternative to jail time. This effort would allow Dane County judges to have more leeway in sentencing offenders to work off their crimes by doing good works.
“By offering community service we have a chance to help inmates turn their lives around and reduce recidivism,” said Supervisor Paul Rusk, the Chair of the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee. “Additionally, we are especially pleased that the Circuit Court judges brought this innovative proposal to the County Board.”
A cost of living increase for contracted employees in human services is another priority of the County Board. Amendments to increase funds available for a cost of living increase would affect about 1,000 employees who work for the not-for-profit agencies providing services to help individuals to live in the community. The goal is to provide these services and their workers with a pay boost similar to that proposed for county staffers.
“These are dedicated people providing badly needed services for some of our most vulnerable citizens, including those who suffer from mental illness, seniors, and the developmentally disabled” said the amendment’s sponsor,” said Supervisor Haley Young. “These workers deserve a long-overdue pay raise.”
Other additions to the budget include:
· Funding child protective services to work with minors, many in foster care or group homes. About 70 percent of these children are black or Hispanic.
· Expanding the Urban Water Quality grant program which helps local governments to control urban storm water outflows into Dane County waters. Since 2005, these grants have helped fund projects totally $10 million and are estimated to have removed more than 500,000 pounds of debris, and more than 2,000 pounds of phosphorus annually. The Personnel and Finance Committee is considering an amendment to double funding for this important initiative.
The Personnel and Finance Committee will complete its work next week and will recommend a package of amendments to the full County Board, which will meet on November 14th for budget deliberations.