GREEN BAY - Wisconsin's Department of Health Services pays top dollar on several homes around the state in rent. But rent isn't the only cost to taxpayers.
In most cases DHS reports its rental properties are each housing one sex offender on supervised release from the Sand Ridge Treatment facility in Mauston.
We're talking about $1,600 for one rental house in Manitowoc when larger homes nearby rent for as low as $400.
Or a house in Green Bay being rented by the state with your taxpayer dollars for $2,500, also four to five times above the going rate.
Some taxpayers we talked to are outraged.
"It's a lot of money, that's a lot of money," said one neighbor.
"That's crazy, I got a two bedroom apartment for $410," said another about the Green Bay property.
Taxpayers pick up the rent cost because these sex offenders are still the responsibility of Sand Ridge and the Department of Health Services. If the sex offender has money he is required to contribute to the cost. But out of the 28 currently on supervised release, only one according to program officials is paying his way.
That is what frustrates taxpayers.
"All of them have to be provided yes, and that's why they say it's costing us then to do that in that way. Is that the way we should be doing it? And at such cost?" asked Richard Kunz, a neighbor of the home being rented in Manitowoc.
And the $550,000 in rental costs a year is just the start of it. Sand Ridge officials confirmed to me by email that taxpayers also pay for a lot more. But before they could provide specific costs on camera, Sand Ridge officials backed out of an interview--declining further comment. But I obtained a document sent by a Sand Ridge official from last year detailing the annual costs then.
It shows nearly $13,000 for phone service--needed to contact the clients and for electronic monitoring, and $30,000 for utilities--covering gas, heat and electricity.
Lawn care and snow removal racked up $19,000 in costs since leaving the house is restricted. Taxpayers paid for $9,000 for food.
That's in addition to sex offender treatment in the community of $339,000 and $956,000 for a hired company to monitor the sex offenders and chaperone them to where they need to go in their communities.
With other miscellaneous costs and the rent added in the total cost for those on supervised release comes to $1.9 million. The amount the sex offenders are contributing to their costs of care--$69,000.
"This is an open ended story and we're only in the middle of the book," said State Senator Michael Ellis, president of the Senate.
Ellis was shocked when we showed him what taxpayers were paying to rent homes for those on supervised release.
Ellis figured the state could save millions over ten years simply by buying rental properties. But he says there's another option to consider.
"Option two would be to eliminate the release program. The supervised release program, just get rid of it, and expand Sand Ridge," said Ellis.
Ellis acknowledges there are legal issues and state statutes that need to be reviewed in addition to the costs of the program, but he's sure taxpayer money can be saved.
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