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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Co. Delays BB Contract, Okays $9.4 Million Bond

At one of the longest and most action-packed meetings in recent years, Marinette County Board on Tuesday, Jan. 28 approved a $9.435 million bond issue to finance capital improvements (mainly roads) and agreed to table for two months a proposed $100,500 engineering services contract with Robert E. Lee that would have set the wheels in motion to start work on the controversial $3.5 million version County BB/Shore Drive reconstruction in the Town of Peshtigo.

The bonding resolution passed with 23 in favor and six opposed, and delay of the BB contract was approved by a 22 to seven margin.

On a 23 to 5 split vote, the board agreed to implement the second phase of the WIPFLI wage study, which gives raises totaling $400,620 a year for some county positions that the study found were being paid under market, and “red circled” pay for other positions the study found were paid a total of $726,823 over market for similar jobs. Voting against the new wage schedule for the 43 employees affected were supervisors Mike Behnke, Gilbert Engel, Shirley Kaufman, Larry Nichols and Al Sauld.

The board unanimously accepted an eagerly awaited state grant not to exceed $328,000 to establish a Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program and Drug Court aimed at alleviating the growing heroin/opiate drug problem in the county. Along with accepting the grant came agreement to accept responsibility for administering the programs, and to provide $82,000 in matching funds, which can be in the form of “in kind” contributions of facilities and work by county officials and employees. Hopes are that the program will be so successful that an addition to the jail tentatively planned for 2018 will not be needed. Acceptance hinges on Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison’s approval of the contracts involved.

Gaining funds for the TAD and Drug Court programs has been a goal of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee for many months. Members learned at its Jan. 17 meeting that some TAD/Drug Court funds had been approved for Marinette County, but the amount was not announced. Judge James Morrison reported at the Jan. 17 meeting that he had successfully applied for a federal training grant to aid in setting up the anti-drug programs here. The TAD program will run under the direction of Health and Human Services, but it is expected that the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee will be the hands-on oversight group.

With almost no discussion the board approved a long list of independent contractors and contract payments as recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services. Payments approved for those contracts without further County Board action totals $8,683,718.17. The contracts include services such as mental health care, elderly care facilities, various residential and day care facilities and services, transportation, foster care and meals for the elderly.

The board by 23 to 6 vote decided to keep the elected position of coroner rather than convert on Jan. 1 of 2015 to an appointed Medical Examiner. (See related story on this page.)

At the start of the meeting, Emergency Government Director Eric Burmeister reported briefly on steps being taken to alleviate the propane gas crisis in the county which has left many homes without heat, especially in the far northern areas of the county.

Burmeister said the most serious problems are faced by customers of a vendor in the northern part of the county who cannot get propane. Other vendors have been unable to supply them due to an overall shortage.

The Wisconsin Petroleum Gas Association and the Wisconsin Department of Administration, have made arrangements to resolve at least a part of that problem. Larsen Co-op of New London was able to send a truck to Kansas and back for a load of propane for an emergency drop to meet the needs of the most urgent customers.

Burmeister said his office hasn’t seen large numbers of customers needing shelters, but suggested if that does happen, the need might be best handled by the Red Cross. The Red Cross has set up shelters in Crivitz and Iron Mountain.

Meanwhile, Burmeister acknowledged there are numerous rumors surrounding inability of the vendor to get propane, and said his office has been reaching out to the vendor to either confirm or deny the rumors. He is working with Gov. Scott Walker and the state Economic Development Corporation to obtain financing for vendors faced with soaring propane prices.

Jennifer Garner, regional representative for Senator Tammy Baldwin, introduced herself to the board and invited them to call on her for assistance. She said. Baldwin’s staff came in over the weekend to see what they can do to help with the propane problem here, and said Sen. Baldwin has asked president Obama to use his executive authority to limit exports of propane to relieve the shortage in the States.

During time for public comment at the start of the meeting, Supervisor Paul Gustafson made a strong plea to the board and Administrator Ellen Sorensen to reconsider her decision to appoint Supervisor Gilbert Engel of Niagara to a position on the Elderly Services Committee formerly held by Gustafson. Gustafson, who also chaired the committee, said just as Marinette County is divided into 30 supervisory districts, with one representative from each, Elderly Services has seven members, each representing a different area of the county. Gustafson represented the City of Marinette, and with Engel selected to replace him, Niagara will have two representatives and Marinette, with the largest population, will have none.

Despite Gustafson’s request to reconsider, Sorensen did not change her appointment and County Board later approved it on a 23 to six voice vote with Gustafson, Mike Behnke, Ted Sauve, Don Pazynski, Russ Bauer and Alice Baumgarten opposed. Joe Banaszak was absent.

Other appointments approved were Realtor Amy Shaffer to another term on the Land Information Council, Randy McCauley as a lending institution representative on the Industrial Development Corporation Board, Mike Orlando as a BAMC member alternate on the Local Emergency Planning Committee, and Sue Heurion to the ADRC Governing Board.

Hot and heavy debate preceded the board’s vote to delay action on the Robert E. Lee contract to work on the BB/Shore Drive project that they originally designed.

There has been contention among large numbers of property owners along BB that the project designed by Robert E. Lee and endorsed by the Highway Committee is not needed. They have for several years been requesting new pavement and paved shoulders on each side to serve as a bicycle/walking path. A prior highway administrator had designed the paving as a $1.5 million project, but when new Highway Commissioner Ray Palonen came aboard he said it was under designed and did not meet county road standards.

Robert E. Lee was hired to redesign the road, and the $3.5 million project is among those to be financed by the $9.435 million bond issue for 2014. Property owners and members of the Peshtigo Town Board maintain the deep ditches and culverts on the more costly Robert E. Lee plan are not needed. The road was last resurfaced 40 years ago, and long-time residents maintain the sandy soils of their area along the bay drain readily and there never has been a problem with standing water.

Nevertheless, plans for the reconstruction in accord with the $3.5 million design proceeded. Property owners were instructed to remove encroachments from the 66 feet of right of way the county claims it owns. Subsequently several property owners came forward with deeds they say prove the county owns less than 66 feet where the road passes their property, in some cases as little as 45 feet. Engineers and Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison insist the county does own the 66 feet. Those who dispute have been advised to hire legal counsel.

One of the public meetings called to address the Shore Drive/BB issue drew approximately 200 residents expressing opposition to the county’s plans for their road.

In the face of the opposition from residents and Peshtigo Town Board, the Highway Committee in November offered to resurface the entire road in accord with their wishes, provided the town would then accept a jurisdictional transfer that would make the entire length of BB/Shore Drive into a town road rather than a county responsibility. The Town Board rejected that offer in December, with a message that it should be repaved as suggested, but should remain a county road.

When the new $100,500 contract for Robert E. Lee came up on Tuesday, Supervisor Don Pazynski, whose supervisory district includes the entire BB/Shore Drive area, had some strong words on the subject.

“I feel this is presumptuous and a bit arrogant,” Pazynski declared. “We have issues to resolve before we proceed further!” He pointed out there is question regarding the right of way and the consideration of saving a million or two of county taxpayer dollars by following the design proposal favored by the taxpayers who live on that road.

Pazynski said both the original $1.5 million plan and the $3.5 million plan favored by the Highway Committee are good and proven designs. However, he said, the committee design is appropriate for a rural remote road crossing varying types of soil, while the design favored by residents in an area that includes 243 homes (350 including those on cul de sacs off BB), “protects the scenic road environment and most important could save taxpayers a minimum of $1 million and perhaps as much as $2 million.”

He said the county’s own figures show a savings of $377,000 could be realized by eliminating culverts and end caps, and not having to move utilities a second time will eliminate another $300,000 to $400,000 added cost.

He went on, “The committee has assumed they have a 66 foot right of way and did not verify this assumption. Several residents have produced deeds indicating areas where the right of way is only 45 to 50 feet.”

He said the committee asked the engineering company to provide a 66 foot verification, and “their conclusion was that there is no conclusion...and then suggested the committee should just assume they had 66 feet.”

“It is not my intention to cast any disparaging comments toward the engineering firm, but we do have 100,500 reasons - dollars - before us today why they would so advise the committee,” Pazynski declared. “It is my understanding some residents might take this to court. Such action could delay the entire project a year or more, especially if an appeal is followed through.”

Pazynski said the Highway Committee has attempted to defend its more costly version of the highway design by saying it will last longer and minimize potential liability, then countered, “The residents’ design with no culverts and ditches has been tried and tested. The city of Marinette has incorporated this design behind the hospital in front of the University- same shoreline - same traffic volume. And as we’ve tried to emphasize again and again, the high perk beach sand along this entire section of road does not require ditching and culverts. There is absolutely no drainage problem! The city has also utilized this design on Pierce Avenue from the high school to University Ave., even where it crosses a marsh area where there is standing water on both sides of the road, spring and summer!”

As to potential liability, Pazynski declared they are awaiting a report from the Sheriffs Department analyzing past accidents, but preliminary discussion indicates no recent road construction related accidents. He said state statutes cap potential town and county liability to $50,000 per accident, which is far from the potential liability implied by the committee.

He urged the board to not ignore the issues and dismiss requests of the taxpayers, and urged the delay until the March 25 board meeting to allow time to see if there will be any court action and subsequent project delay, and to allow the board sufficient time to address the issue of cost savings.

“I favor postponement,” Engel said, “but I wonder if there has been any effort to do any mediation between the engineers and the residents?”

“A big effort,”Corporate Counsel Mattison said, and told them the Highway Committee had offered the jurisdictional transfer, which the town refused. As to the right of way issues, “There is a legal presumption the county has a 66 foot right of way, absent any proof to the contrary.”

“Again, I ask if there has been an effort to mediate,” Engel repeated.

“I believe the committee attempted to mediate,” Mattison said. She said intent of the committee in proposing the contract being considered was, “Let’s move forward and if the citizens want to contest it, let them bring legal action.”

Pazynski declared the only time the committee approached the Town Board with anything like an offer to negotiate was when they offered the jurisdictional transfer, “which the town didn’t feel they could afford.”

Pazynski pointed out there were over 200 people at the first BB meeting, all opposed to the county’s design of the road. At the last Highway Committee meeting Town Chair Herman Pottratz presented a petition against it, with 100 signatures. There were 35 people against it at one of the committee meetings. He repeated, “The only overture we had from the committee was when they offered the jurisdictional transfer.” He waved a paper and declared, “As to proof of right of way, I have here a 1975 deed that shows 45 feet of right of way!”

“I may be a County Supervisor, but I work for the people, and I hope the rest of the board realizes they work for the people too,” Pazynski declared.

Supervisor Robert Holley asked about the services the engineers were supposed to provide for $100,000, wondered why highway personnel could not handle the tasks described themselves.

“We don’t have the staff or the expertise to prepare all the bid documents,” Palonen explained.

Holley felt the $100,500 price tag was excessive.

Palonen disagreed. He said they were being contracted to handle a $3.5 million project, and a standard engineering charge is 10 to 15 percent of the total project cost, “and this is well below that.”

Russ Bauer, a member of the Highway Committee who has consistently voted against the more expensive version of the BB redesign plan, said he favors the postponement to give the residents time for due process.

Al Sauld noted according to state law a road right of way is assumed to be 66 feet unless deeded otherwise, and agreed they should postpone to get the issue verified. He said with today’s computerized records it should be easy to research whether or not there are deeds showing less than 66 feet of right of way.

Larry Nichols asked if the delay might endanger the whole project, and Palonen said it would.

“If it is postponed, who will be responsible for doing what?” asked Nick Lakari.

Sauld said they should investigate the deeds,”We’re talking a big legal snag here!”

“It’s only somebody’s opinion that we may be encroaching,” Corporate Counsel replied. Sauld asked if she had done a search, and the answer appeared to be no.

“Here is a deed...One of a dozen deeds,” Pazynski declared. “Why put the cart before the horse?”

“Until we get a challenge in court we aren’t going to resolve the deed issue,” declared Russ Bousley, chairman of the Highway Committee and staunch supporter of the $3.5 million reconstruction plan.

Corporate Counsel said the action would essentially force somebody to do something.

Pazynski reminded fellow supervisors they were not talking only of the right of way dispute, but also of the $1 million to $2 million difference in project costs, money that could be spent on other projects. “There’s no magic source of money,” he declared. “Even if it is part of the bond issue, it’s all taxpayer money!”

Vote was called, and the 2-month delay was approved on a vote of 22 to seven. Those opposed were Highway Committee members Bousley and Joe Policello, along with supervisors Bill Walker, Melissa Christiansen, Lakari, Nichols, and County Board Chair Vilas Schroeder, whose supervisory district lies in the Town of Peshtigo. Schroeder is also Peshtigo Town Treasurer. Supervisor Joe Banaszak was absent.

Voting in favor of the postponement were C. J. Barrette, Alice Baumgarten, Mike Behnke, Ken Casper, Mike Cassidy, Engel, Gustafson, Holley, Kathy Just, Ken Keller,Tom Mailand, Al Mans, Ken Mattison, Pazynski, Al Sauld, Ted Sauve, Connie Seefeldt, Clancy Whiting and Cheryl Wruk, along with Highway Committee members Mel Sharpe, Shirley Kaufman and Bauer.

Earlier in the meeting the bond issue that will pay for the 2014 capital improvement projects was approved, with Bauer, Baumgarten, Gustafson, Holley, Kaufman and Whiting voting against, and Barrette, Behnke, Bousley, Casper, Cassidy, Christiansen, Engel, Just, Keller, Lakari, Mailand, Mans, Mattison, Nichols, Pazynski, Policello, Sauld, Sauve, Schroeder, Seefeldt, Sharpe, Walker and Wruk voting in favor.

Bond Consultant Jeff Belongia explained this bond issue had sold on even better terms than he expected, and declared they should be proud of the county’s excellent AA credit rating that made it possible. He said due to $189,335 added by investors who bought extra investment protection, the actual purchase order for the bonds comes to $9,624,335.35, and projections are that the entire amount can be repaid with the half percent county sales tax, with no property tax money involved.

He further explained that this year’s borrowing is only a portion of what is expected to be a total of $42 million borrowed over the next five years to finance projects on the capital improvement plan approved a few months ago by the board.

Belongia was pleased that the bonds sold for 2.578 interest, well below his projections. Marinette County came out slightly better in the bond transaction than Sheboygan Falls did recently in a similar bonding, and declared, “We were very fortunate in terms of timing.” He predicted that inflation would increase cost of the projects more if they were postponed than the interest they would be paying to get them done this year.

“In my 33 years in this business, I haven’t seen many markets as favorable for the borrower as this,” Belongia went on.

He said if the county borrows the entire $42 million as planned, and if the $14.5 million bond issue in the final year of the 5 year bonding program is needed to finance a new pod for the jail, the worst case scenario is that then, in that year, they would need to add a 20 cents per $1,000 property tax in addition to the sales taxes allocated. He also explained that each year they have left $400,000 of the estimated sales tax proceeds untouched, to be used for more short term capital purchases of things like vehicles and equipment.

Sauld was concerned about reports the state may drop the income tax and instead raise sales tax to possibly 12 percent. He feared if that happened, Marinette County’s sales tax income would go down because people would cross the border to Michigan to do their buying. Belongia doubted that would happen.


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