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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Board Okays $53M Capital Improvement Plan

By unanimous vote on Tuesday, June 25, Marinette County Board approved a “2013 Executive Bonding Proposal and Capital Improvements Program” that calls for spending $52,716,950 in the next five years. Considerable discussion preceded a 23 to five vote to fund that plan for 2014, including “debt” of $9,435,200 that will most likely be financed with a bond issue.

Attempts to postpone the vote until next month to provide time to obtain more detailed financial projections was stymied by some parliamentary maneuvering that included a 24 to 4 vote to cut off debate and call for the question, followed by a ruling by Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison that any attempt to amend the original motion was out of order following a call for the question.

Only supervisors Alice Baumgarten, John Holley, Kathy Just, Shirley Kaufman and Clancy Whiting voted against the 2014 spending plan. Supervisors Ken Keller and Tom Mailand were absent.

Most costly of the capital improvement projects approved for 2014 are for highway improvement projects, including parts of County BB in the Town of Peshtigo, parts of County C from County F to the county line in Silver Cliff and from Perch Lake Road to Wausaukee in the Town of Wausaukee, and County V in Amberg.

Other major expenditures scheduled for 2014 include $500,000 for financial software, $140,200 for a countywide security and surveillance camera system for Emergency Government, $275,000 for maintenance and repairs at the Niagara Senior Center and the UW-Marinette campus, $265,000 for hardware and software for Information Services, and $503,000 for law enforcement. The Law Enforcement allocation provides $277,000 for a storage shed and concrete pad for LEC equipment and $226,000 for purchase and preparation of vehicles.

The total $52 million 5-year capital spending plan calls for incurring a total of $41,994,200 of debt for capital projects between 2014 and 2018. The remainder will be financed by a minimal property tax levy of less than half a million dollars, paying $1,074,000 with sales tax proceeds, using $3,835,000 of Highway restricted cash, $380,000 from the Forestry and Parks Fund, $2.184 million in grants and aids, and using $2.52 million in operating revenue, most of which will probably come from Maroco Landfill earnings. Only $165,000 is slated to be taken from the County’s general fund balance. The plan uses $571,000 from the Forestry Department’s Heavy Equipment Fund over the 5-year period.

County policy provides that proceeds of the half a percent county sales tax can be used to pay off debts and provide for capital improvements to keep those costs off the property tax levy.

There were no opposing votes to other action at the meeting. Decisions included:

*Changes to county personnel policies and procedures manual that increase the normal work week for most county employees from 35 to 40 hours;

*Approval of an agreement with CenturyLink Sales Solutions (details still to be worked out) for a $146,393 upgrade to the 911 phone Sentinel and a 5-year contract with Calling Solutions, LLC for inmate telephone services for Marinette County Jail, both pending Corporation Counsel review;

*Funding 2013 Highway Department deficits totaling $762,700 with funds to come from the Unassigned General Fund Balance. The deficits covered include $444,000 for construction, $153,700 for snow removal to date, $100,000 for County BB tree removal and utility adjustments, and $65,000 for drainage improvements at the County W/Parkway Road intersection in the Town of Stephenson;

*Eliminating a Health and Human Services Financial Account Clerk/CSP position and creating two new positions, an additional Customer Service Screener and another Economic Support Worker;

*Purchase of a 2013 Club Cab truck from Witt Ford for a total of $26,087, pending Corporation Counsel review; and

*Approving an agreement with the video conferencing system vendor that will be selected by the Finance Committee at its July meeting, subject to Corporate Counsel’s review and approval. That agreement is projected to cost about $175,000.

The meeting began with recognition of Crivitz High School graduate Jake Wiedemeier for winning his record third consecutive pole vaulting state championship.

There were reports by Dean Paula Langteau of UW-Marinette and Marinette County Library Director Jennifer Thiele.

MCABI Director Ann Hartnell and Pam Kolasinski of Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation reported on regionalization of Community Development Block Grant revolving loan funds, but assured the board the Marinette County loan fund will continue to be controlled by the county.

County Administrator Ellen Sorensen introduced Jennifer Sequin, her new Administrative Secretary. Sequin replaces Gina Teeple who left county employ to pursue her Master’s Degree and become a deaconess. Sequin has been a county employee for 12 years, working mostly in Child Support.

Without dissent the board approved several appointments as recommended by Sorensen. They included Connie Clayton for a civil Service Commission term expiring on Dec. 31, 2016; Kirsten Bellisle for the 911 User Committee with no term limitation, and Mary Lock for the County Consolidated Library Board to complete a term expiring on Dec. 31, 2015.

By taking no action the board in effect agreed that the makeup of the Marinette County Tourism Alliance will remain unchanged, at least for now. A work group recommendation to reduce membership from 15 to seven members had drawn strong opposition from a majority of Alliance members, despite strong support from Supervisor Nick Lakari, who then was Alliance Chair, and Supervisor Ken Casper, who chairs the County Board’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee, parent group for the Alliance, which is comprised mostly of volunteer members.

At its April meeting, after a strong appeal by former Supervisor John Guarisco, County Board declined to approve the Economic Development Committee recommendation to change the Alliance membership format and sent the proposal back to committee, with a request that they get input from the Alliance. The recommendation to reduce the size of the Alliance came because for over a year there had been continuing difficulty getting a quorum of the membership together for a meeting. Unfilled Alliance seats compounded the problem.

Subsequently, Guarisco, who had been an Alliance member representing Crivitz Recreation Association, was chosen Alliance chair, and the Alliance voted strongly to keep its 15 members and displayed a renewed commitment to keep up attendance and keep vacant positions filled.

In the wake of that activity its June meeting the Economic Development and Tourism Committee agreed to take no action on the proposed membership resolution. That decision, reached by committee consensus rather than vote, was made with input from Mattison on how to best handle the issue.

At the County Board meeting Casper explained what had transpired and explained his committee had agreed there should be no action at this time.

Next on the agenda was a discussion by Mattison on County Board policy as it pertains to “Suspending, Changing and Interpreting the Rules.”

The rules limit each speaker addressing the board under time for public comment to no more than five minutes, and do not allow any interaction between the speaker and the board. County Board, on motion made by Supervisor Al Sauld and seconded by Supervisor Mike Behnke, had voted to suspend those rules and allow Guarisco to speak for more than five minutes, and to answer questions from supervisors. However, that vote was not by roll call, which the rules require.

Mattison agreed County Board is allowed to suspend its rules, but said that action must be taken by roll call vote and must be approved by two thirds of the members present.

Subsequently the board, by 25 to 4 vote rejected the proposed Alliance change and sent it back to committee, with a request that they get input from the Alliance. Only four members voted against that action. They were Supervisors Joe Policello, Al Mans, Casper and Lakari.

The procedure had come up for discussion at an Executive Committee meeting on June 6, and Mattison had been asked to explain the procedure to the full County Board. The result was something of a scolding. Mattison said County Board is authorized to suspend its rules, “but the issue came up as a public comment issue that shouldn’t have happened...it wasn’t done by roll call vote...we do not suspend rules to provide for a free for all in public comment...”

“There are ways to get things on the agenda,” Mattison said. “We shouldn’t suspend the rules to create debate on an item that’s not on the agenda.”

Actually, subject of the discussion was on the agenda as an action item for the board later in the meeting, but not during time or public comment.

“My question,” Lakari asked, “is, did supervisors Sauld and Behnke say to Mr. Guarisco, ‘We’ll suspend the rules,’ or did Mr. Guarisco approach them?”

“That’s not necessarily an appropriate discussion right now,” Mattison interrupted, “This is a discussion on a procedure that happened. That is past. It’s over.” She suggested he talk to the two supervisors after the meeting.

“Don’t worry, I will!” Lakari declared.

“In future, if we see fit to suspend the rules it shouldn’t be a blanket suspension,” commented Board Chair Vilas Schroeder.

”We will not be doing a blanket suspension ever again as long as I’m Corporation Counsel,” Mattison assured him.

The real debate of the meeting came in connection with the 5-year Capital Improvement Plan, which was printed in the board’s meeting packet as “2013 Executive Bonding Proposal and Capital Improvements Program,” but on the agenda only as the Five Year Capital Improvement Plan, followed by a recommendation to “approve funding per preliminary funding analysis of the Five-year Capital Improvement Plan for 2014,” and then approval of the overall 2014 Budget Policy.

When the 5-year plan came up, Supervisor Whiting asked if they were being asked to vote on 2014 bonding. Schroeder told him that was in the next motion.

Whiting declared he would not vote in favor. “Too often in my short time on this board I opposed something and then you told me I voted for it already.” Mattison assured him there were two separate issues, first being the capital improvement needs as identified by department heads and their parent committees, and then, “if you approve that, the next question is now you pay for it, and that is addressed in the next resolution.”

“You’re telling me that, but that isn’t what the document says,” Whiting said, referring to the heading on the 5-year plan which did call it a bonding proposal.

Supervisor Just told him they had to look at the plan as a totally different issue than the bonding.

The plan itself then passed, and the board moved on to funding for the 2014 portion of the Capital Improvements plan. Sorensen noted the plan is just that, a plan, which can be changed as situations change over the next five years, but for the 2014 budget there needs to be specific decisions. She said if the Board doesn’t want to fund the projects slated for each year, “you cannot follow the plan developed by your professionals.”

Sorensen said whenever they can “cash flow” projects they will.

Finance Director Pat Kass came to the podium to explain the financing and how it could work. He said Maroco Landfill has always used its own income to play for its own capital improvement projects.

Sorensen said currently the county budget has a $1.7 million structural deficit. Several departments that had healthy fund balances helped offset that deficit last year.

Baumgarten attempted to question how some items would go together, but Sorensen told her that was not on the agenda and the board had never given her direction.

“This is very important,” Just said of the bonding/financing. “We need numbers in front of us before we go ahead with this. We need to know what it will cost taxpayers.”

Kass told her a 15-year $9.4 million bonding will cost the county 20 cents per $1,000 of equalized value, or $20 a year added to the tax bill for a $100,000 home. Most of what he suggested should be a $9.4 million financing would be for roads. He said interest right now on a state Trust Fund loan is higher than bonding. The county has $20 million from the sale of Bay Area Medical Center that is supposed to be retained, and having that amount in reserve gives the county a better credit rating with lower bond interest rates. He told the board they could use the $20 million they have from the sale of what is now Bay Area Medical Center, “but if you use that, it is gone, and there will be no future interest earnings. He pointed out one reason for the current budget deficit is the low interest rate that resulted in sharply reduced interest income for the county. That will change if and when interest rates go up again.

“I want to see those numbers put on a piece of paper so we can study them” Just declared.

“I can’t give you numbers,” Kass responded. “I don’t know what will happen.” He added just hat morning he had received 2.5 percent interest on a 5.5-year investment.

“I am completely with Kathy on this,” declared Baumgarten. “This information should have been in our packets...You can’t do actual figures, but you can do a best case scenario and a worst case scenario.”

Supervisor Don Pazynski urged the board to keep the $20 million in reserves. It makes the county more credit worthy and results in a lower interest rate now and forever, unless it’s gone.

Baumgarten agreed. She reminded everyone when they sold the hospital the board agreed they would never spend the principal.

There were comments that restriction could not be imposed on future boards, and Sorensen said administration would do “whatever you deem appropriate,” but right now, the operations side of the budget cannot cash flow the $1.7 million budget shortfall.

She said the board could choose not to provide funding, and then the projects would not be done; they could choose to bond, or they could take the money from the reserve accounts...”It’s your choice.”

Kass said he has looked at where interest rates are going, which is up, and bonding now would be the best viable way to fund the 2014 projects.

Sorensen too recommended bonding as the best answer because it gives a lower interest rate, and keeps the county money intact to earn interest in the future.

“Bonds never get paid off,” Whiting declared. He said the federal government has borrowed the nation into a position where every man, woman and child owes $530,000, and it’s getting worse. The state budget too was in a mess because of bonding until Gov. Scott Walker did what had to be done to get the debts paid.

“I appreciate seeing this,” Lakari said of the 5-year plan. “This gives us a view to the future.”

“In past years we didn’t look to the future, we dealt with needs as they came up,” Schroeder said. “We need to be more pro-active than reactive.”

However, Schroeder agreed the board was being asked to make a major decision, and suggested if supervisors wanted time to think about it, get more information and talk to their constituents, waiting for one month would not be a problem, “but we need a decision next month!”

“Nobody likes to borrow money,” Supervisor Connie Seefeldt agreed, “but interest rates are the lowest they are ever likely to be, and if we spend our investments, that money is gone.”

“We run on a committee system,” declared Supervisor Al Mans. He asked the board to trust the wisdom of the Finance Committee and the advice of county officials and go ahead with the bonding.

There had already been attempts to amend the main motion which would approve the financing plan, but Mans moved to cut off debate and call the question, and that motion was approved, 24 to 8. The only opponents were from supervisors Russ Bauer, Baumgarten, John Holley and Whiting.

Just asked if she could move to postpone action for a month, and Mattison said that was precluded by the motion to end debate and vote could only be on the main motion. That motion then was approved by the 23 to 5 vote, with Baumgarten, Holley, Just, Kaufman and Whiting opposed.

Supervisor Russ Bauer then asked when they would be starting on the bonding, and was told probably sometime in 2014. Bauer asked why not do it now, when they know the rates are low, and have figures ready for the July meeting. They had just been urged to vote for that reason, he said.

Kass said there are arbitrage issues. He said they need to use tax free bond proceeds within three years, and Sorensen said if not they could face penalties.

Bauer had more questions about why they had to wait when they had just been told they had to move quickly, but Mattison cut him off, saying they could not talk about that now because it was not on the agenda. She said he had good questions, and he and anyone else with questions should stop and talk to Sorensen or Kass.


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