MADISON, Wis. -

Dane County taxpayers could soon be asked to pay for a new jail that the sheriff said is needed to accommodate the growing number of inmates with mental health issues.

Dave Mahoney, Dane County sheriff, said despite some of the numbers being tossed around, no price tag has been set for the project.

“We have a basic level of care we expect all of our citizens should receive, and right now it’s not being delivered,” Mahoney said.

Single cells with a concrete bed and a metal toilet are where inmates with mental health issues are kept at the Dane County Jail.

“It’s not conducive to mental illness or the medical issues an individual may be suffering from,” Mahoney said.

Lights are kept on 24 hours a day in the mental health units because they were designed to house inmates with disciplinary problems.

Mahoney said from 2008 to 2012 the number of inmates with special needs went up 315 percent. That’s why he’s pushing for 160 additional beds specifically for those inmates.

“We don’t need a new jail. What we need to do is look at some of the issues at our current jail, which I think can be fixed relatively inexpensively,” Tim Kiefer, who is on the Dane County Board of Supervisors, said.

Monday night, the county board approved a proposal giving the sheriff up to $8 million to explore remodeling, expanding or building a new jail.

Kiefer said the estimates he’s heard are too expensive.

“As we move forward with this I will continue to fight against this $120 million jail,” Kiefer said.

Mahoney said adding the space is the right thing to do because there is a moral and ethical obligation to provide for these inmates.

The consultants are expected to deliver their recommendations sometime in December, Mahoney said.

Mahoney is inviting anyone with questions to reach out to him. He is also willing to give people a tour of the jail to see the conditions for themselves.