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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Board Sends Debt Hike Back To Committee

“We all need to look at the big picture,” Marinette County Finance Director Pat Kass told Marinette County Board on Tuesday, June 24 as they struggled with the 2015 budget policy and a proposed bond issue for 2015 capital improvement projects that will add another $5,844,767 to the $9.44 million debt they incurred last year for 2014 capital improvements.

Kass is a member of the 3-person team heading Marinette County operations since the resignation of County Administrator Ellen Sorensen. The other members are Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison and Human Resources Administrator Jennifer Holtger.

“We can do everything you want done, but somebody has to pay for it,” Kass told the board. His tentative budget proposal removes some items from the operating expense category and puts them into capital expenses which can be financed with a low interest bond issue that will be paid for over the next 15 or so years.

The glitch is they borrowed for the same reason last year, and if the 5-year capital improvement plan is adopted again there will be additional borrowing for at least each of the next three years. The plan, with a total price tag of approximately $43,508,667 was initially adopted last year as part of the budget process for 2014. If the entire plan is carried through, by 2019 the county will have incurred $35,973,917 of debt to pay for it.

Kass had just told them that state levy limits allow them to increase the county’s property tax levy for the operating budget by $150,452 this year, which he pointed out will not cover the cost increases. However, state law does allow additional property tax debt hikes for debt service. Because the county is already at its maximum allowable tax rate under the state levy limits formula, the allowable increase cannot be more than the percentage of growth in county property values, which was 1.029 percent.

After struggling with the issue at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 16, the Finance Committee had moved the capital improvement plan and the borrowing to support it along to County Board without a recommendation.

After some agonizing discussion and debate on Tuesday, County Board referred the Capital Improvement Plan back to committees, with instructions to cut whatever they can from their portions, and then send it back to the Finance Committee.

Supervisor Russ Bousley was the first to ask for time to make a decision. He pointed out that the Finance Committee had been unable to come up with a recommendation, “and now this gets dumped in our laps and we’re expected to act on it today.” He suggested that while initial committees had approved their parts of the plan, supervisors should take more time to look over the entire package and its impact on the total budget.

Vote to do just that was ultimately approved with Supervisor Mike Behnke casting the sole opposing vote. There were suggestions to hold special committee meetings and perhaps a special County Board meeting to speed up the process, but Kass said he could live with a 30-day delay. He said he did not think when the first borrowing was done last year that supervisors understood the tax bill would be going up more for each year of the 5-year borrowing plan. There had been suggestions to have committees trim perhaps 10 percent from their requests, but Kass said that would equate to only two or three cents off the tax on each $1,000 of equalized value. “Your concern is how much burden you want to put on the tax bill,” he told the board.

In other actions, the board, without dissent, approved a number of projects being paid for from the proceeds of last year’s borrowing, including the long-awaited work on County BB from University Drive to Pond Road, with its total construction price tag of $1,949,100 on a bid from Northeast Asphalt that was approved. As initially proposed by the Highway Department the BB project would have been more ambitious and would have cost in excess of $5 million. Residents along the project area protested strongly, as did the Town of Peshtigo, and eventually the decision was to go forward with the pared down project they favored.

Other projects in the Northeast Asphalt bid approved on Tuesday were work on County V from Palmer Road to Amberg for a total of $1,181,180 and County C from County FF to the west county line for a total of $537,840.

These prices are in addition to a $65,953.50 agreement with Robert E. Lee & Associates to furnish construction and paving inspection services for the three projects. Robert E. Lee had devised the earlier BB plan that residents opposed. It would have included widening the road into what many property owners along the right of way was not county owned turf.

Supervisor Clancy Whiting wanted to know why the entire length of County V was being done, and Highway Commissioner Robert Palonen explained the entire road will be done this year, but the portion from County C to Palmer Road needs more extensive work, an entire plan for grading and reconstruction to take out vertical curves. Right now, Palonen declared, “it rides like a roller coaster.” He said they were not able to get the design done in time to be included in this bid.

Supervisor Ken Mattison wanted to know why they were hiring Robert E. Lee for the construction supervision task. “With our Commissioner’s qualifications, I don’t feel it’s necessary to hire an outside firm for that,” he declared, referring to Palonen.

“We have so much going on that we don’t have the staff available to provide the oversight needed,” Palonen said. He said if he did the inspection/supervision work personally he would have no time to be in the office, preparing budgets and in general running the department.

The board also voted without dissent to appropriate up to $8,900 from the Jail Assessment Fund to replace smoke damper actuators at the Law Enforcement Center, transfer $43,876 from Contingency to fund two new 40-hour dispatcher positions that will replace three part positions in that department. One of those positions is currently vacant, and the two part time employees are expected to accept the full time jobs.

The board approved a Comprehensive Community Services Intergovernmental Agreement with Oconto County after an explanation by Health and Human Services Department Administrator Robin Elsner. Elsner explained the partnership, with Marinette County is for a community services partnership for programs aimed at assisting citizens with alcohol abuse and other mental health problems. Separately the counties get 60 percent aid for their programs, but if there is a partnership the reimbursement is 100 percent. He said other counties may join. Florence County has shown interest, but so far has not joined. Marinette County is to be the lead agency for at least the first year of the agreement.

A zoning change recommended by the Town of Pound was approved without dissent. A 3.1 acre parcel belonging to Garrett Swierenga, located south of County Q between 9th and 3rd roads in the Town of Pound is changed from Agricultural/Residential to Quarrying. The change was recommended by the Town Plan commission and approved by the town board.


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