SPARTA - Seven of eight Monroe County supervisors fell Tuesday in a recall election over their support for a proposed $26.7 million justice center.
Only Carrol Wallerman of the town of Ridgeville, who represents District 11, survived the recall effort mounted by a taxpayers group whose earlier efforts to get a public referendum on the project had been rebuffed.
The Monroe County Taxpayers Relief Committee targeted 13 supervisors who supported going forward with building the center on a site on the east edge of Sparta, adding a 200-bed jail as well as space for the sheriff's department, three Circuit Court branches, the county Justice Department and other offices.
In an advisory referendum in the city of Sparta only on where to build the justice center, the results overwhelmingly favored the current courthouse location in downtown Sparta to the so-called "dog pound" site on the city's outskirts by a vote of 1,065 to 161.
Tuesday's election results dim the prospects the center still will be built, as it gives opponents a majority on the board.
Dennis Clinard, chairman of the Monroe County Taxpayers Relief Committee, said the results are a mandate for change.
"I think it sends a message, not just in this county but all across the state, that people are sick and tired of government officials ignoring the people," Clinard said while gathered with group members Tuesday at a Sparta residence.
The closest race was in District 12, where challenger John Powell edged incumbent Jim Kuhn by two votes. Kuhn and any other candidate has 10 days to file for a recount.
The newly elected members likely will be seated on the board Oct. 28.
Board Chairman Dennis Hubbard still faces a recall election Nov. 3 against Jim Schroeder.
"We are all committed tonight to turn our efforts to make sure that we win the race for Jim Schroeder," Clinard said.
The board in February 2008 had approved $30 million in bonding for the justice center after nearly two decades of debate over jail overcrowding and security.
The faltering economy, along with the project's price tag, motivated supervisors to place a moratorium on the project in December, but it expired in April and was not renewed.
Supporters said the center would solve chronic overcrowding in the jail and a lack of space for a new third Circuit Court judge that will be seated in August 2010.
Opponents argued the price tag was too high for current economic conditions and the county might not be able to afford running the facility when built. They pushed for further study of alternatives, including expanding the existing 144-year-old courthouse.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Department has had an average daily population of 118.4 inmates in 2009, according to Sheriff Dennis Pedersen. The jail can house 50 to 60 inmates; the rest must be sent to jails in other counties, at a cost of more than $1 million a year.
The board took bids on the project last month, with a total base of $25.4 million. The addition of seven alternate bids pushed the total to $26.7 million, still less than the original $30 million estimate. The bids were opened Sept. 23 and are good for 90 days.
Voter turnout Tuesday varied in the county, with about 1,000 casting ballots in the city of Sparta, while only about 220 came to the city of Tomah polls, said County Clerk Shelly Bohl.
"When you look at Sparta's population, I would say it was a fair turnout," Bohl said. "The City of Tomah was quite low."