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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Borrowing Plan Sent To County Board Unapproved

The news was mostly bad for Marinette County Board’s Finance Committee as it started work on the 2015 budget at a meeting on Monday, June 16. Finance Director Pat Kass said the annual audit report will be presented at the committee’s July meeting. Meanwhile he explained various fund balances that have dropped to near dangerous levels.

The General Fund declined $2,249,221, to a total of $32,706,605 at the end of 2013. The unassigned General Fund Balance was $6,258,708, Kass said, adding, “We’re on a slippery slope.” That’s 28.19 percent of the budget. For sound fiscal practice it cannot fall below 17 percent.

Budgeting for 2015 will be difficult. New construction for 2014 was only 1.029 percent, and that means the allowable property tax levy increase is $150,452.

That will be difficult if the insurance premium rises by perhaps $800,000, Kass said. “We may have to be flexible with use of our sales tax.” When the sales tax was implemented to finance construction of the new jail, there were promises made that it would be only used to pay for the new Law Enforcement Center. That promise has long since fallen by the wayside.

Kass advised financing as much as possible of the capital improvements by borrowing to give the incoming county administrator as much flexibility as possible. He agreed it will ultimately cost more taxpayer dollars. Payment on the 2013 bond issue will add 15 to 23 cents per $1,000 on each property tax bill. The new borrowing, if approved, will add more to the debt service levy. State law limits the levy amount for operating expense, but debt service is handled separately.

The committee agonized over the 2015 portion of the capital improvement plan, and finally decided to send it on to County Board without a recommendation for consideration at its meeting on Tuesday, June 24.

If all items are left intact, approval would include borrowing another $5,844,767 to make it happen. That’s in addition to the $9.44 million borrowed last year to finance projects in the first year of the ambitious 5-year capital improvement plan.

If all segments of the 5-year plan are approved and financed as projected, by 2019 the county will have paid for $43,508,667 of capital improvements and will have borrowed $35,973,917 to do it.

The board was told when they approved the bond issue last year that there would be more borrowing needed in 2014, and still more in future years, but some committee members seemed surprised to hear that. Others had expressed concern last year, and repeated those concerns on Monday.

“I don’t know how often we can go to the well for this borrowing before the taxpayers get upset,” commented Supervisor Don Pazynski. “I’m not comfortable with the decision that we can just go on borrowing....I’m thinking, ‘What’s the taxpayer going to think?’”

However, Supervisor Don Phillips said if the county is going to borrow, now is the time to do it, while interest rates are still low, and others agreed. He added that as long as the projects are needed, prices will only go up if they wait, and there was agreement with that too.

Projects and acquisitions proposed for 2015 include improvements at the Niagara Senior Center costing $75,000; work at the UW-Marinette campus including $100,000 for a new roof for the library building, replacement of heat exchangers on that roof for $700,000 and refurbishing the administration building elevator for $150,000; $330,000 of improvements for the Information Services Department (including $150,000 for courthouse door security and $150,000 for redundancy of the virtual network); $583,000 for Law Enforcement, including $280,000 to buy a Bearcat armored vehicle and $224,000 for squad cars plus $79,800 for replacement of decals, light bars grill guards, etc. on those cars, plus $4,909,767 for various highway projects.

Highway projects on the 2015 schedule for debt service financing include County BB for 2.7 miles from the curve southeast of B to Pond Road, $820,000; County BB Little River Bridge Replacement $60,000 (in addition to $240,000 in Federal bridge aid; $1,022,077 for County B from Belgium Road to County W; $594,000 for County Q overlay from Pound east to Hwy. 64, $725,000 for County Q overlay west from Hwy. 141 to Hwy. 64, $976,000 for County X overlay from Wasco Road to Old Rail Road, and $625,000 for County U from U.S. Hwy. 8 to the north county line.

“I don’t know how we’re going to afford everything that’s in there,” declared Supervisor Vilas Schroeder, who chairs both County Board and the Finance Committee. He asked if there are some things that they can get by without, for example the $150,000 for Courthouse door security.

Supervisor Kathy Just, County Board vice chair, suggested they limit after-hours admittance to the courthouse to only one door, probably the ramp entrance on the north side of the building. Information Services Director Larry Schultz agreed that would be the door to keep open.

Kass recommended if they feel a project is necessary it would be better to do it now before prices and interest rates go up. However, he repeated, “it’s going to cost the taxpayers money.”

Sheriff Jerry Sauve was on hand to defend his request to purchase the $280,000 Bearcat vehicle.

He said for several years he has identified the need for an armored vehicle, mainly because they are handling more and more high risk drug cases. Currently they borrow one from Brown County and the City of Green Bay.

However, when it is not available bringing one in from elsewhere can take a long time. For the train bridge shooting in Niagara a few yeas ago they had to wait for one to arrive from Marathon County.

In response to questions from committee members, Sauve said there are no grants available to a small rural county like this one, and the units made available by the Army are too big for his department’s needs.

He said if Marinette County had its own Bearcat they would change how they train, and be far more able to get their job done while keeping officers safe.

Lt. Jason Ducane, who has headed the Sheriff’s Department’s Special Response team since 2005, also spoke of the need for a small, maneuverable armored unit. He said the county response team is a highly trained team of professionals but not up to SWAT levels. He said with no armored vehicle they often have had to go on foot against armed murders. They would also use the Bearcat as a rescue vehicle. He told of a case where, with the help of the Brown County unit they were able to capture an armed and dangerous subject before he was able to get out into the community and endanger more people.

“Like a snow plow or a fire truck, this vehicle is there to protect the community,” Sheriff Sauve declared. He said with proper maintenance it would last some 30 years.

They would also use it to assist other county law enforcement agencies, and assist other departments with mutual aid as Brown County does now. Ducane noted it takes a minimum of an hour to get the Bearcat from Green Bay to the south end of Marinette County, and another hour if the emergency is at the north end. Two hours is too long in an emergency, he declared.

Sauve told of an incident in the Town of Porterfield when by chance they were training with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department and an armed and dangerous man was reported out in the woods nearby. They were able to apprehend him with no injuries.

“Everybody is concerned about your safety, but we have to be concerned about our money,” Just told him.

Sauve said they would be amazed how many weapons they find on drug calls. Ducane said they can see the need for the vehicle every night on the evening news.

Kass said while the general budget is still under the levy limit, they need to either change their philosophy or become more LEAN. The sales tax currently is dedicated to debt service and some allocations for tourism, which generates more sales tax. He said for years they tried funding road construction under the tax levy, “and it just doesn’t work.”

“Property values are not growing and the population is not growing, but society is changing and all the attendant costs aren’t going away,”commented Pazynski.

“Pretty soon our debt levy is going to be as big as our operating levy,” Schroeder declared. He expressed doubtful hope an industry will move in and real estate values will boom.

Sauve was asked if he can get by with fewer squad cars, but Sauve said he cannot, if he gets the two additional deputies he was promised. Pazynski noted the deputies had been postponed last year.

“The operating budget is tight as it is,” Schroeder commented, “...but someplace down the line we have to swim on our own.

After more discussion on small things that might be cut vote was unanimous to move it on to county board without a recommendation and let all 30 members share in the decision. Sheriff Sauve was asked to be present for the June 24 meeting to explain his case.

“We’re still digging a hole,” Schroeder commented.

“We need to communicate this to the taxpayer...It’s a fact of life,” Pazynski suggested.

In other action, the committee adopted the same budget policy as last year and adopted a budget schedule that requires department heads to have their budget requests in by Aug. 15, and set the committees budget hearings to start on Oct. 8. County Board will be asked to approve these on June 24.

In other business, the committee backed a Personnel Committee recommendation to allow the Human Resources/Information Services limited term employee to work through the end of the year, and to convert three part time dispatcher positions into two full time positions, which required a transfer of $43,875 from the Contingency Fund.

They also approved taking $8,900 from the Jail Assessment fund for replacement of smoke damper actuators at the jail, despite Sauve’s concerns that this might not be a permissible use of the money.

The monthly investment report showed Marinette County has $38,509,651 invested.

They also approved a three year agreement with Century Link for circuits connecting the Crivitz and Pembine Highway Shops with the courthouse at a cost of $4,509.72.


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