CHIPPEWA FALLS — Chippewa County will be getting its first bailiff position to provide security in the courthouse.

The board voted 12-2 Tuesday to create the position.

“It was a priority of mine,” county Administrator Randy Scholz said. 

Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk explained the position — costing $80,812 — will be paid for through contracted services such as revenue from housing out-of-county inmates in the jail and it will not go on the levy.

“Very few courthouses I go to don’t have courthouse security,” Kowalczyk told the board. “Personnel is a deterrent. This is overdue. This is the route we need to go to provide safety to the people who work in the courthouse, but also the people who visit the courthouse on a daily basis.”

Supervisor Leigh Darrow of the town of Eagle Point noted the county has spent $3 million on courthouse security in recent years, including installing cameras, adding key cards and upgrades to make offices safer. Darrow said he couldn’t support adding a full-time officer.

“We’ve spent way too much on this already,” Darrow said.

Supervisor Larry Willkom of the town of Lafayette also voted against it.

Supervisor Dean Gullickson of the town of Tilden is a retired state Department of Natural Resources warden, and he disagreed with Darrow’s assessment.

“We would be really foolish to not have a person here,” Gullickson said. “Without security, a crazed person could come here, and someone could die.”

Supervisor Annette Hunt of Chippewa Falls said judges “shouldn’t have to pack their own heat,” referencing that Judge Steve Gibbs wears a gun under his robe at all times.

Chippewa County uses transport officers and jailers to bring inmates to the courtroom. There also are part-time bailiffs provided by the clerk of courts office, usually for trials, but those workers don’t carry service weapons and don’t have arrest powers.

Chippewa County is one of only a handful in the state without an armed bailiff in the courthouse. In comparison, Eau Claire County has five bailiffs — one for each judge. Those officers — one sergeant and four deputies — provide security throughout the campus, said Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer.

Cobban Bridge

The board also voted 11-3 to move forward with an agreement with the state Department of Transportation on a final design to rebuild Cobban Bridge in 2021. Chippewa County will be responsible for paying $1,686,400 of the estimated $5.68 million construction project. The 100-year-old bridge is located halfway between Jim Falls and Cornell.

Supervisors Gullickson, Darrow and Steve Gerrish voted against it.

Supervisor Chuck Hull reminded the board it would cost about $1.4 million to tear down the bridge and repay the state on bridge design work already done, so it only costs about $200,000 more to build a new bridge.

In May, the DOT announced it had awarded $4.7 million in state bridge funds to the project. However, the DOT usually funds 80 percent of a project. 

In this case, the county is left paying for all costs above that $4.7 million figure, and if estimates escalate, those additional dollars will fall on the county to cover.

In August 2017, the Cobban Bridge was closed indefinitely after it failed inspections; it isn’t expected to reopen. The new structure would be about 26 feet wide with a length of 500 feet over seven bridge spans.

The 484-foot-long Cobban Bridge, built in 1908, is a single-lane, steel “Pennsylvania Truss” bridge, and is considered a “fracture critical” structure. The county reduced the weight limit on the bridge in 2007 from 10 tons to 6 tons, preventing school buses and fire trucks from using it, in an effort to extend its useful life.

Supervisor Jason Bergeron was not in attendance Tuesday.