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Tiffany Says Fiscal Bureau Predicts State Will Be $200 Million In Black

“The Dane County judges are certainly doing their jobs!” State Rep. Tom Tiffany, Hazelhurst, told members of the Marinette County Unit of Wisconsin Towns Association at their quarterly meeting Thursday, Oct. 20 at Wausaukee Town Hall. He cited several cases recently in which judges elected by Dane County voters have ruled against laws passed by a majority in the state legislature, including voter ID, the controversial Act 10, which governs collective bargaining for public sector employees, and a more recent law permitting use of dogs to hunt wolves in Wisconsin.

Tiffany, who currently serves in the State Assembly, is seeking to become State Senator from the 12th District, which includes northern Marinette County.

“We expect our Attorney General to vigorously defend us on Act 10,” Tiffany declared. “We believe the judge is defying us.”

As to the dog provisions in the wolf hunting law, Tiffany said if they had not put the dogs in there those opposed to wolf hunting would have found some other reason to challenge the law.

On a good note, Tiffany said last week the numbers came in from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. “We are in the black at this point, and it looks like we will end the year with a $200 million surplus...We haven’t had that for quite a while!”

Early in the meeting, WTA District Director Marilyn Bhend of Athens, who serves as clerk for her town in Marathon County, had expressed hope the new state law requiring photo ID for voter registration will not be in effect in time for the November elections. She also warned of calls clerks have been getting with questions on their interpretations of the new laws, but no one seems certain what is behind them. “Follow the money,” she suggested, adding that town clerks who feel the callers may be trying to trip them up on one or another of the issues connected with voter registration should refer the caller to the Government Accountability Board in Madison. She has been told an east coast university is doing a study of some sort on the contested Wisconsin law.

Tiffany, speaking late in the meeting, said it doesn’t look like the courts will have the voter registration issues settled by election day in November. While he sympathized with difficulties Bhend and other clerks may face in complying with the law, he said registration reform is necessary. While voter fraud is probably not a big issue in the sparsely populated northern counties where generally people know each other, it is a big problem in the cities. He reminded them that in the 2004 presidential elections there were 4,500 more votes cast in the City of Milwaukee than there were eligible voters!

Other legal issues were addressed by Judge James Morrison and District Attorney Allen Brey, who both are announced candidates for the Marinette County Circuit Court Branch 2 judge position to be filled in the April elections.

Brey briefly described a recent case in which the former treasurer of Wausaukee Rescue Squad (Amanda Stumbris), is charged with embezzling a total of $132,505 over a four-year period, from 2009 though 2012.

Reports state the alleged thefts were done by ATM debit card, checks from petty cash, and payroll checks issued to herself and her husband. As squad treasurer during that time, Stumbris was the only person who had control of squad funds and the only person with access codes and passwords to computerized financial records. There were no outside audits. Discrepancies were finally discovered and reported to authorities by Squad President Kevin Kwasny.

Brey said the case shows the importance of looking at banking statements regularly and doing an audit, even if the audit has to be internal.

“Non profits often have a hard time finding money for an audit, but a case like this shows how important it is for officers and boards to at least check bank and credit card statements,” Brey commented, adding that town and county officials also need to regularly keep a close eye on finances, and not leave it to one person. He also said sadly most cases of that sort result from addiction to gambling or drugs.

“If you do your jobs the way you should, a thing like this (the Rescue Squad embezzlement) will not happen, or at least, if it does, it will not go on for eight or nine years, as it did not far from here,” Bhend told the group.

Circuit Court Judge Jim Morrison spoke of the enormity of the heroin problem in Marinette County, and said just this week there was another local death from the drug. He and Brey are among a group of Marinette County law enforcement professionals who have been seeking treatment options for persons hooked on what he has described as an instantly addictive drug, as well as prevention and enforcement options.

Morrison was appointed to the Marinette County Circuit Court Judge Branch II position earlier this year by Gov. Scott Walker to fill a vacancy left by the retirement of Judge Tim Duket. He said he has enjoyed his time on the bench so far, finding it challenging and rewarding. He is hoping to be re-elected in April.

Town of Athelstane Treasurer Greg Reinhart said something should be done about the state’s grievance procedure for town employees. He said his 3-member town board had fired a 9-year town employee, who paid the requisite $500 fee and filed for grievance arbitration. The arbitrators ruled in favor of the employee and ordered that he be reinstated. However, the decision went back to the board and they again voted 2 to 1 against the employee.

Questioned on impact of some other laws, Tiffany declared, “The bureaucracy becomes the legislature ... agencies take a law and rewrite it.”

He said for example under the DNR rules, NR115 “just kept getting more and more onerous.” He added, however, “The DNR is bad, but the EPA is absolutely out of control!”

He said the legislature recently adopted Act 21, in which says agency rules cannot exceed the stated intent of the law.

There were 23 officials representing 10 Marinette County towns at the meeting, which was chaired by Gaylord King of Silver Cliff. Clerk/Treasurer Dave Bedora of Beaver reported the group’s treasury balance is $1,399.78.

Atty. Tom Harnisch, who for many years was head legal counsel for WTA and is a recognized expert on town government law in Wisconsin, gave a mini course on how to adopt and enforce town ordinances. He said he is now retired except for occasionally attending county meetings for educational programs at the request of WTA head Rick Stadelman.

Harnisch recalled his first case involving environmental law was a shoreland/wetland case in Marinette involving Ralph and Kathy Just versus the state of Wisconsin. That case, he said, drew national attention because it involved the question, “How far can we go to protect wetlands?”, which remains a controversial issue today.

Harnisch distributed a list of 16 municipal ordinances he believes every town should enact.

They include ordinances covering solid and hazardous waste disposal, non-metallic and metallic mining, private driveway road access, ATV/snowmobile routes, public nuisances and junked vehicles, animal control, land divisions and subdivisions (or town zoning),livestock, comprehensive plan, town cemeteries, wind turbines, assembly control, road use, weight limits and speed limits, noxious weeds, and administration, which includes ordinances spelling out Board of Review appointment public records distribution, parliamentary procedure, citations, five person boards, and appointed town clerk/treasurer. He noted towns cannot have land division and subdivision or zoning ordinances unless they first have a comprehensive plan in place.

He cautioned that some of these ordinances must be in place for many months before they can prevent an activity the board does not want, for example a landfill or hazardous waste disposal site.

Harnisch cautioned towns to not adopt ordinances without having them first reviewed by legal counsel. Also, they are not to be adopted without being presented in writing prior to the meeting with possible amendments, and properly listed on the agenda. Ordinances dealing with land use must go first to the Plan Commission.

He also recommended that the town board have a public hearing prior to adoption on every ordinance they are considering, and holding a roll call vote to record adoption.

Weight limits on roads are a large consideration for town governments, since heavily loaded trucks can cause disproportionate road damage. Harnisch said towns can control this and keep industry, agriculture, logging, etc. operating in the community by having weight limit permits, through which the heavy trucks pay a permit fee that ultimately helps pay for repairing the roads that they damage.

Questioned on how far a town board can go on regulating things they feel are public nuisances, Harnisch said some are a given, for example dangerous open cisterns. In general, things that cause pollution, attract varmints or create public health problems are nuisances. Also, “Your property rights end at your property line.”

Bhend reminded members that October is the last chance they have if they want to exceed state-set levy limits for the coming budget year. They must give at least two weeks advance notice of intent to ask electors to authorize it at the annual budget hearing. She commented that towns should not have to be run by referendum.

She said anyone who does not understand the process should call the Department of Revenue for assistance.

She expects the $2,117 per mile the towns get from the state gas tax to maintain roads will not change this year. She said everybody could use more, “but where would it come from?” and added, “All the towns want is that we get our fair share and that not all the money goes to big projects in the south!” She added that the TRIP program this year is funding 58 projects in 48 different counties, so it is quite widely distributed.

By 2013 all municipalities must have their assessment rolls on electronic media, so assessments for 2015 will cost more, she predicted. She said towns should retain the right to be in charge of their own assessing.


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