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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Oconto County Property Values Down For 5th Consecutive Year

“Equalized values are down for the fifth year in a row. That didn’t even happen in the Great Depression,” Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann told Oconto County Board at its annual budget hearing Thursday, Oct. 31. Largely because the equalized value of the county dropped by nearly $18 million, property tax rate will be going up the amount allowed by law again this year, despite using a considerable amount of reserve funds.

Hamann said despite hard work by everyone involved, the budget shows a $5.7 million increase in costs but only a $2 million increase in revenues. “You’ll be okay in 2014, and probably in 2015,” Hamann cautioned, “but in a few years your savings will be gone and you will have to make some very tough decisions.”

The budget overall uses $7 million from fund balances, but provides for adding reserves to other accounts, for example $100,000 is going to an account for retiree benefits in anticipation of a retirement “bubble” in the coming year.

For 2014, the tax levy for county purposes will be $5.227 per $1,000 of equalized value, up from last year’s $5.149, representing a mill rate increase of 1.58 percent. However, they used $760,099 of fund reserves to bring the levy down to the legally allowable limit.

Hamann said the county currently has some very healthy reserves because the Finance Committee wisely set money aside for a rainy day when times were good. “This is a rainy day,” he declared, repeating that they will have to look at cutting programs in a few years if the economic picture does not improve. A new construction spurt could help resolve those problems, but right now that does not appear likely.

The budget includes $250,000 in contingency to implement wage levels recommended in the Carlson-Dettman study, actual amounts for elected officials per county board action, and insurance and retirement benefits. A large chunk of the overall 2014 spending hike is the $3 million allocated for site acquisition and design of the new Law Enforcement Center to be added to the courthouse. That project, with an approximately $23 million price tag, was approved by the board in September. Steps to begin implementing the construction plans, including purchase of property and hiring an engineering firm to design the project, were approved at the board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24. The budget approved on Oct. 31 provides $1,300,000 for Law Enforcement Center design and $1,700,000 for land purchase and related expenses, including removal of existing buildings,

Capital projects generally are funded from the $910,000 in sales tax money, but the $3 million for the Law Enforcement Center is being taken from general fund reserves, so no new taxes are being levied for those purposes, Hamann said. There will be a bond issue when the Law Enforcement Center is to be built, which is at least a year in the future.

Capital improvements included in the budget for 2014 and approved by County Board are: $205,000 for an upgrade to the E911 system, $160,000 for squad car replacements, $150,000 for courthouse lighting upgrades (which should eventually pay for themselves in energy savings), $40,000 to repair the courthouse Clock tower, $150,000 for Chute Pond upgrades, $45,000 for ortho photography, and $160,000 for computer equipment.

Hamann stressed that just because the capital purchases are funded in the budget does not mean they are approved. Each must come back to County Board before the money can be spent. He was pleased to report that at this point the county is debt free. The last payment on long term debt was made in 2013, and there is no more anticipated until the Law Enforcement Center bond issue.

Finance Director Terry Hinds walked the board and the public through the budget, explaining changes and purpose for various allocations.

Budget for Corporation Counsel is going up, as it is being changed from a part time to a full time job, but budget for labor negotiations dropped because the full time Corporation Counsel will assist Hamann with union contract negotiations and they will not hire an outside consultant.

Hamann noted the County Board allocation is down, and said board members have been good about scheduling fewer committee meetings to keep costs down.

Board Chair Lee Rymer thanked Hamann, Hinds, Finance Committee members Tom Gryboski, Paul Bednarik, Greg Sekela and Doug McMahon (in addition to himself),and department heads for their cooperation and work in putting the budget together. The committee had worked on it for four long days.

No one in the crowded board room addressed the board on the budget.

“I have been proud that we have had money in the unreserved general fund,” Rymer declared, “and we still have to stress that we are now debt free!”

“How many county boards can hold a public hearing on the budget and not have a single person speak?” Rymer asked. He said the successful budgeting was the result of a lot of cooperation and good relationships between department heads, “It wasn’t always that way...In the past many of them hated to come to budget meetings,” Rymer commented.

Charts in the budget information booklet showed that of the $522.70 county tax levy on a $100,000 property, $178.70 goes to support the Sheriff’s Department, $143.85 for Human Services, $100.03 for Highway Department, $20.73 for courthouse maintenance, $18.19 for Contingency, $14.38 for county libraries, $12.50 for courts, $9.11 for Land Information, $8.53 for zoning, $8.20 for Extension/Education,$7.97 for Oconto County Economic Development Corporation, $7.21 for the finance department, $7.01 for insurance/safety/risk management, $6.27 for the District Attorney/Victim Witness program, $5.82 for the County Clerk, $5.61 for Land Conservation, $5.47 for County Board, $5.43 for Administrative Coordinator expense and labor negotiations, and $4.58 for Veterans Service office.

Amounts less than $4 each per year on the $100,000 property are levied for Veterans Service Office, County Treasurer, Medical Examiner, Elections, Commission On Aging, Emergency Government, Land and Water Support, Bay Lake Regional Planning, Parks and Forestry, Youth Fair, Historical Society, and Senior Citizens Center. A handful of departments are self supporting, and a few others earn money to offset the taxes needed. The Register of Deeds office generates a “profit” sufficient to take $1.75 off the taxes on a $100,000 property. State shared revenue subtracts another $17.03, delinquent taxes (because of interest) reduce the levy by $23.02, and applying reserve funds cut the required levy by $37.13, bringing the total levy to $522.70.

Hinds said after deducting all the reserve funds for 2014, the Unreserved General Fund balance will be $1.2 million. This is in addition to the $7 million the county has in savings, and the nearly $6 million kept for cash flow purposes.

Before adjourning for the day, Hamann reported briefly on the “active shooter” Emergency Government exercises that closed the courthouse from 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29. “We learned some things we have to correct,” Hamann said.

There were few problems with people coming to the courthouse and finding it closed during normal business hours. One of them was a young couple seeking a marriage license and the other was a delivery driver.

Hamann thanked Oconto City officials for their cooperation and hospitality during the drill, particularly the police, who participated in evacuating the courthouse, and personnel at City Hall, which served as the evacuation area for persons evacuated from the courthouse.

County Clerk Kim Pytleski invited anyone interested to attend a Rural health Conference at Stone Harbor Resort in Sturgeon Bay on Saturday, Nov. 16.

The regular monthly County Board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24 opened with a moment of silence for former Supervisor Claire Trepanier, who had passed away.

Rymer presented a certificate of appreciation to Robert Roszak for his 19 years of service to the residents of Oconto County.

UWEX Director John Pinkart introduced Sarah Mills-Lloyd, who is the new ag agent for the county. Mills-Lloyd is a licensed veterinarian. “I think I can be helpful to you,” Mills-Lloyd said , adding that her door is always open.

Pytleski read a letter from Douglas J. Hag, acting DNR real estate director, advising the county the department plans to buy 4.56 acres of land for a new Ranger Station in the City of Oconto Falls.

The board was informed that Gov. Scott Walker has appointed Supervisor Terry Brazeau to the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission.

Several zoning ordinance amendments approved as recommended by the Zoning and Planning Committee were:

*Property owned by Harvey and Donald Mooren in the Town of Brazeau to change from residential single family district and forest district to rural residential district.

*Property owned by Paul Marquardt in the Town of Lena from residential single family, agricultural and general commercial district to residential single family and rural residential district.

*Property owned by Jerome Arndt in the Town of Little Suamico from agricultural district to forest district.

*Property owned by David LaCount, Wayne LaCount and Shady Lawn Dairy in the Town of Little Suamico from residential single family and agricultural district to agricultural and residential single family district.

*Property owned by Carol Yokeum in the Town of Mountain from residential single family to general commercial district.

*Property owned by Richard and Rogene Ronk in the Town of Townsend from rural residential to residential single family district.

The board at that Oct. 24 meeting approved going forward with land acquisition and design work for the new Law Enforcement Center.

Rymer said of the Sept. 19 meeting at which the site was approved and decision made to go forward, “I personally feel this was the most important meeting in my 18 years as board chair....I want to thank everyone....When the Law Enforcement Center is built, it will be something we can show our children and grandchildren.” He said the nearly unanimous vote on both resolutions “Shows we have a board here that I’m proud to serve as chairman!”

He said comments he has heard from the public are mainly that they are glad the Law Enforcement Center issue is finally settled and they like the location at the courthouse.

A bit later in the meeting Hamann said the wheels will be put in motion to start acquiring the north block properties. He would like to get Adams Street completely vacated so the building can be attached directly to the courthouse, which will mean more efficient operation. Without Adams Street the north site is 4.7 acres, but adding the street area will bring the site to almost 6 acres. He said one of the architectural engineers familiar with the project said the north site will be sufficient. He expects to spend a year on land acquisition and design, and doesn’t expect completion for four or five years.

At the request of Supervisor Rose Stellmacher former Oconto Mayor Don Nerenhausen had been allowed to address the board. Nerenhausen declared himself 100 percent in favor of the new law enforcement center, but totally opposed to the courthouse location.

Later, Stellmacher said she had not been aware until the day of the meeting that the proposed site was being changed from County S to the block north of the courthouse. However, she had researched another 12.7 acre property at Wagner and the Shell Station which has all utilities in and would not require vacating any properties. She asked if they were looking at spending $25 million on the building in addition to the $3 million for site acquisition and design, and Hamann said that might be the case. He said he too had looked into the property she referred to, and soils there will not support the size building they need.

Supervisor Robert Reinhart noted the NEWCAP complex was built just nine years ago, and asked if there was any chance of keeping that. Hamann said after they get a design they may find a way to get along without that property. Partly that will depend on whether or not the city will vacate Adams Street.

An attempt by Stellmacher to table the enabling motions failed for lack of a second. Hamann said if the resolutions were tabled he would not even be able research actual property costs. The two resolutions then passed by 28 to 1 vote, with only Stellmacher opposed. Supervisors Terry Brazeau and Alan Sleeter were absent.

On request of Pytleski, the board raised per diem pay for the Board of Canvassers from $40 to $60 for the day, same as County Board. Pytleski said they sometimes work 8 to 12 hours for the $40 pay, and work at least 4 to 6 hours for the fall elections. “They’re very good at what they do and I don’t want to lose them,” Pytleski declared. Stellmacher agreed a raise is long overdue. She said canvassing ballots is tedious work and everyone almost always goes home with a headache. Approval was unanimous. The last raise was 14 years ago.


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