County Board Approves Budget Without ChangeIssue Date: November 15, 2017
Despite a last ditch effort by supervisors who wanted the Horticultural Program Assistant position restored to the UW-Extension office, Marinette County Board on Tuesday, Nov. 14 adopted the 2018 budget as proposed. No one from the public spoke for or against the budget at the public hearing that preceded the vote.
The budget provides $53,461,675 for operating expenses, down more than $6 million from last year. Despite a $322,368 increase in the overall operating tax levy, the tax rate for 1017, to be paid in 2018, an increase in total property values allows the tax rate to drop slightly, from $4.322 to $4.257 per $1,000. Added to that rate is 25 cents per $1,000 to pay the debt service levy, which is up from 23.8 cents a year ago.
The day for County Board began with regular business at 9 a.m. and then broke for the 10 a.m. public hearing before taking final action for the day by adopting the budget as prepared by County Administrator John LeFebvre and recommended by the Finance Committee.
With two dissenting votes, County Board agreed to become one of the many counties in the state that are filing lawsuits against "big pharma" drug manufacturers for allegedly providing physicians and the public with too little information about the addictive qualities of the drugs they sell.
Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison said Wisconsin Counties Association is strongly urging participation, and so far only two counties in the state have said they are not interested.
Mattison said there will be no cost to the county if the suit has no money recovered, but hopes are to recover costs of providing services to drug addicts and bring more public attention to the overall problem of drug companies and physicians who push addictive prescription drugs.
She warned these types of lawsuits typically take "quite some time," and might not be settled for years. She said the contract allows the county to get out of the contract at any time with seven days' notice, and before signing she will get input from other legal advisors.
"This is at least acknowledging that there is a problem and that we are attempting to do something about it," Mattison commented.
Anderson said the biggest problem was that the drug manufacturers did not adequately warn doctors about the addictive properties of the drugs, and Gilbert Engel felt another problem is that doctors do not monitor all the drugs their patients are taking.
Robert Holley declared individuals also need to take some personal responsibility for the drugs they take. He said he and his sister, who is a nurse practitioner, had discussed this problem. He maintained that the big drug companies are not going to take a loss, and whatever amounts they are ordered to pay to the counties will be passed along in the price of other drugs and ultimately to insurance carriers, "so in effect we're suing ourselves." Holley and Supervisor Glenn Broderick cast the sole opposing votes. The remaining 28 supervisors voted in favor.
At the budget hearing, Assistant Finance Director Laura Mans presented an overview of the budget items for the benefit of county officials and supervisors, since there were no members of the general public on hand.
Before adopting the operating and debt service budgets and the tax levies to support them, supervisors spent about half an hour arguing for and against a motion to restore a full time horticultural program assistant position that LeFebvre had recommended eliminating from the UWEX office.
In addition to other duties, the person involved works closely with the Master Gardeners on Harmony Arboretum programs and projects. Many of the supervisors arguing for restoring the post are members of Master Gardeners. Supervisor Tom Mailand mentioned programs at the arboretum bring visitors from other areas, which makes it an economic development asset, and popular programs for children, including the annual Halloween Fun Fest which attracted 200 visitors this year.
Board Chair Mark Anderson acknowledged that cutting positions is painful, but admonished that they need to look at "necessities, needs and wants," and pointed out that the budget remains in a deficit state, with the state levy limits set and money again taken from county reserves to balance the budget. Overall, this budget eliminates 5.5 county positions, Anderson noted.
Nancy Crevier, a former Marinette County UWEX agent who now is handling administrative duties as area UWEX coordinator, spoke briefly on the reorganization being done throughout the UWEX system, and agreed this is a bad time to eliminate the county post.
Shirley Kaufman said she had worked for UWEX for 14 years before becoming a County Board Supervisor, and argued strongly that eliminating the job would be a mistake.
Ag and Extension Chair Ted Sauve said he had agreed in committee to recommend eliminating the post, but that was when he expected they would work out an agreement to share services with Oconto County. Since that apparently now is not going to happen, he favors keeping the assistant on the job.
There were many comments that eliminating the other office staff post will overburden long-time program assistant Nancy Servais.
Discussion was finally halted on a call for the question, after which the motion that had been made by Engel and seconded by Supervisor Cheryl Wruk failed on a 15 to 15 tie vote.
Voting in favor of restoring the position and taking the more than $70,000 to pay for it from the budgeted Contingency Fund were supervisors Joe Banaszak, Russ Bauer, Glenn Broderick, Engel, Gustafson, Holley, Shirley Kaufman, George Kloppenberg, Mailand, Tom Mandli, Al Mans, Ted Sauve, Bill Stankevich, Clancy Whiting and Wruk.
Supervisors opposed were County Board Chair Mark Anderson, Finance Committee Chair Vilas Schroeder, Josh Anderson, Mike Behnke, Penny Chaikowski, Ginger Deschane, Ken Keller, Fred Meintz, Don Pazynski, Don Phillips, Rick Polzin, Joe Policello, Al Sauld, and Dave Zahn.
Before the vote, Schroeder argued that change of that sort should have been brought up at the Finance Committee hearings on the budget, not at this time. He said eliminating the post had been approved on 3 to 2 vote of the Ag and Extension Committee and then by the Personnel Committee before coming to the Finance Committee, where it was again approved. He believed reinstating the post would have to go through all three committees again before it could actually be done.
LeFebvre argued strongly in favor of adopting the budget as presented, and urged the board to allow him to show how his plan will work. He said Ag Agent Scott Reuss will have more time to spent on the Arboretum since he no longer will have office manager duties, and a contract with Florence County for 10 percent of his time may be eliminated, giving him more time for Marinette county duties.
LeFebvre said the county had three options for dealing with the horticulture assistant issue, one being to accept the recommendation as it stands, another to ask the state to provide another full time ag agent for the county, which would add about $40,000 to proposed county expenditures since the state pays most of that cost, and third, to reinstate the post, which is fully financed by the county, and would add more than $70,000 to the county's operating cost.
Vote to end discussion passed by a 27 to 3 margin with supervisors Kaufman, Gustafson and Holley opposed, after which the motion to restore the position to the budget as described by Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison failed on the 15 to 15 tie vote. The overall budget then was approved without dissent.
At the 9 a.m. start of the meeting LeFebvre passed along the information that the state Department of Administration has approved the additional half time attorney for the District Attorney's office that County Board had requested in a resolution adopted last month.
He also said Tourism Coordinator Butch Kostreva had given notice more than two weeks ago that he was resigning to accept a full time position elsewhere. His last day on the job was Thursday, Nov. 9. LeFebvre said for the time being administrators will fill that vacancy.
LeFebvre also advised that effective Jan. 2 courthouse offices will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, rather than the current schedule of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. He said the added half hour daily for the public to access county services is possible because over the past decade the county has been switching from 35 hour work weeks to 40 hours, and now almost all offices have at least some employees on the 40-hour schedule that allows the earlier opening time without added cost to the county.
LeFebvre noted there had been a rumor circulating that he had cut funding for rescue squads from the county budget and declared that is not true.
He added that the money is in the budget, but depending on the impact of a recent court decision elsewhere in the state they may or may not be able to pass it on to the various rescue squads. He said the judge had decided that counties cannot give funds to rescue squads unless they provide a county-wide service, and in Marinette County each Rescue Squad is its own separate entity. Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison will do more research on this issue.
He also noted that efforts are underway by himself, Anderson, MCABI Executive Director Ann Hartnell and others to convince a cheese manufacturing company to build a proposed new factory in Marinette County that would provide 60 to 100 new well paying full time jobs.
He said Marinette County is competing with other proposed locations, and he believes the key will be having a 30-acre shovel ready site to offer. Discussion elsewhere has mentioned Coleman as one of the sites being considered.
In response to a question from Pazynski, LeFebvre said they are looking at every possibility they can think of to convince the company to locate its new facility in Marinette County.
LeFebvre congratulated recently appointed Highway Commissioner Rick Rickaby for managing to successfully negotiating an agreement with a private property owner that makes possible a drainage ditch from County BB to Peshtigo Harbor. Flooding problems have plagued that area of County BB for years, and LeFebvre said hopefully the new ditch will solve the problem.
Expanding high speed broadband internet services in Marinette County was a major goal set by county supervisors at a visioning session early last summer, and progress is underway on that, LeFebvre said. He, UWEX Economic Development Agent Ellen Geisler, Information Services Director Kevin Solway, and Head County Librarian Jennifer Thiele have been meeting on the broadband issue. He said WPS has maps showing where high speed Internet service is strong and where it is not. They will research for accuracy of the maps by contacting local communities and then plan where to go from there. He said priority will be providing full broadband service to heavily populated areas first and then to less heavily settled communities. Currently the Town of Amberg seems to be the area most lacking in Internet connections.
LeFebvre said the Town of Stephenson, with assistance from Solway, is also working on improving broadband service. Solway, who is a supervisor on the Stephenson Town Board as well as county Information Services Director, said later that there is a meeting set for Thursday, Nov. 16 in the courthouse jury assembly room with the state broadband director on possibilities for broadband funding assistance for either the town or the county or both.
On Tuesday, Nov. 28 there is to be a meeting in the Town of Stephenson with Packerland relative to broadband service.
LeFebvre announced that the new Marinette County plat books are now available for purchase at the courthouse or from various vendors around the county. He said it is a bit larger than plat books of the recent past, and includes aerial photos that actually show the contour of the land
During time for public comment at the start of the meeting Parks and Forest Administrator Pete Villas read a letter from Mike and Luann Mattison, Springfield, Mo. residents who had recently spent four days vacationing in Marinette County, "particularly at Twin Bridge County Park."
The couple said their stay at Twin Bridge was one stop on a three week RV trip across northern Wisconsin. "We were so impressed with the facilities and feel fortunate to have camped there that we felt a written "thank you' to the county was appropriate," they wrote. "I can tell you that no matter where in this country you might travel and camp and whether that took you to county, sate or national parks, Marinette County takes a back eat to no one." They mentioned cleanliness of the park and friendliness of the staff, and said they also visited and fished at the Goodman, McClintock, Dave's Falls and12-Foot Falls parks as well, and found them all top notch. They particularly mentioned the exceptionally helpful and friendly park employee at McClintock Park, and repeated that Missouri has a beautiful park system, "but Marinette County, Wisconsin deserves to be very proud of their parks and natural areas."
By unanimous vote, County board approved appointment of Kenneth Shaffer to another term on the Veterans Service commission that will end on Nov. 30, 2020.
They also approved appointment of Sally Witt as the Crivitz Business Association representative on the Tourism Alliance. She replaces Supervisor Ginger Deschane, who had represented CBA but now remains on the Alliance representing County Board's Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
At the end of the meeting County Clerk Kathy Brandt provided supervisors with the paperwork they will need if they intend to seek return to office at the elections in April, and a short course on how to properly fill them out. First day to circulate papers in Friday, Dec. 1, and final day for filing is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2. Only 20 bona fide signatures are needed to get on the ballot. Declarations of non-candidacy are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec.22.
Recent stories, opinions and photos