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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Speakers Assured No Cuts Pending for Library Funds

Issue Date: September 19, 2019

A suggestion made by Marinette County Board Chair Mark Anderson during budget discussions at the Administrative Committee meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12 drew a firestorm of objections at the County Board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17. Anderson had suggested taking $150,000 from the Marinette County Library system budget this year and perhaps $300,000 next year and putting the money toward improved Internet connectivity for underserved county residents.

That idea did not sit well with supporters of the library, and by coincidence, the Library Board's quarterly meeting on Monday, Sept. 16 had included adoption of its own budget for 2020. The Marinette County Consolidated Library System includes the Stephenson Public Library in Marinette plus branch libraries in Peshtigo, Coleman, Crivitz, Wausaukee, Niagara and Goodman, and a room full of supporters turned out for Tuesday's County Board meeting, including Library Board Chair Cheryl Maxwell and Library Administrator Jennifer Thiele, who had previously been slated to present her annual report to the board.

Other major issues scheduled for the Board meeting took something of a back seat to the library issue, which ended with County Administrator John LeFebvre promising there is no cut to the library in his proposed budget.

The meeting included LeFebvre's budget message, as well as a report on results of the Bay Lakes Regional Planning study of ways to improve economic development and tourism in the county. That report, given mainly by Kristen Fish-Peterson, CEO of Redevelopment Resources which had been contracted to work with BLRPC on recommendations for the economic development structure for the county, included a strong recommendation to work with inVenture North, successor to Marinette County Association for Business and Industry, on both general economic development and tourism promotion activities. Fish-Peterson strongly advised against setting up a separate county department for either of these activities.

In his budget message, LeFebvre told the board his proposed budget provides adequate funding for the County to continue the same level of service in the areas of public safety, maintaining the County road system, providing services to the most vulnerable residents in the County, and allows the County to continue operations through 2020.

The 2020 budget public hearing will be held in the County Board Room at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29. At that time, the general public may speak to the County Board regarding the proposed 2020 budget, after which the Board will consider any comments received, make any amendments approved by a majority of the Board, and adopt the 2020 budget.

State Law limits a county's levy increase to net new construction growth in equalized value otherwise known as "new growth" and some other factors. The County's net new construction growth equates to 1.284% and this net new growth combined with a TID Closeout results in a 1.417% increase in the County's allowable tax levy for 2020. This equates to a $227,407 allowable operating levy increase in 2020 which is a decrease of $15,698 when compared to the operating levy increase allowed in 2019. The proposed 2020 budget sets the operating levy at the legal maximum - $16,279,312, LeFebvre said.

He noted that Marinette County's 2019 equalized valuation increased 2.3% to $3,919,032,900, not including Tax Incremental Districts. This increase is a combination of new construction and increases in existing property valuation within the County. He noted this lags far behind the state's overall growth of 5.8%.

The County's unassigned fund balance as of January 1, 2019 was $9,686,310.70. This is an increase of $513,657.74 over the fund balance on January 1, 2018. The unassigned fund balance does not include $11,708,907.50 in the property tax levy reduction fund or $2,000,000 in the service level stabilization fund, which are both committed to the County's general fund balance. All projected investment revenue generated from general fund dollars in 2020 will be used to fund County services in the 2020 budget.

In accordance with the County's fund balance policy, the total General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance is to be maintained at a level of no less than 17% of total regular general fund operating expenditures. The County's ending 2019 unassigned fund balance is anticipated to be in excess of $9,172,652. Provided this occurs the County's Unassigned Fund Balance ratio to general fund expenditures at the end of 2019 will be at 38%. My recommendation will be to use a portion of this unassigned fund balance to cover the costs associated with the renovation of the Old LEC Building 2020. It is not anticipated that the use of a portion of this unassigned fund balance for this renovation project will reduce the unassigned fund balance to less than 17% of total regular general fund operating expenditures.

The budget provides for paying off $6.8 million of the county's outstanding debt in 2020, $3.7 million more than last year, while maintaining a 25-cent debt service levy. The remainder of the debt retirement is to come from the sales tax fund, which is projected to have income of $3.65 million, up 1.39 percent over the 2019 projections

LeFebvre's formal message said the budget includes numerous changes in expenditures and/or revenue. Some of the most notable increases in expenditures are: salaries and fringes associated with the wage increase, increase in the number of full time equivalent positions for county employees, purchase of vehicles/vehicle cameras for the Sheriff Department and the increase in debt service payment.

LeFebvre highly praised the work Human Resources Director Jennifer Holtger had done in setting up the county's new self insurance program for county employees. He added that what appears to be an increase of $7.4 million in insurance is for the most part the result of the County creating a budget to manage the County's self-insurance fund. The revenue to cover this budget increase originates from the premiums assessed to each department for Health and Dental Insurance.

Balancing the 2020 budget involved using a good portion of the Land Records Modernization fund balance; interest payment received from the City of Marinette in 2020, a portion of the Highway Department fund balance, a portion of the Information Services fund balance, a portion of the Capital Facilities fund balance, a portion of the Forestry and Parks Development fund balance and a portion of the Forestry Heavy Equipment fund balance, an amount equal to the growth in the general fund balance from 2018 to 2019, and use of the County's allowable operating levy limit increase.

He is still waiting for some final numbers from the state, but any adjustments will not change the county's operating levy limit or the debt levy limit or related tax rates. He is to provide a final draft of the proposed 2020 Budget and all summary sheets by the end of September.

Another issue discussed in some detail was a request for Snowmobile and ATV/UTV connections from the City and Town of Niagara to trail systems leading to other parts of Marinette County and the Upper Peninsula.

Over 20 individuals had signed up to address the board under provisions for public comment, most of them in regard to the suggested reduction in library funding. After hearing from six of them Anderson cut off public input, stating there was no proposal on the day's agenda to cut library spending, and his comments were just part of a committee discussion.

Roger Allen asked to have the ATV/UTV trail issue returned for discussion by the Infrastructure Committee. The request had been for a snowmobile crossing and ATV/UTV trail connections at County O and County N.

Allen said the City of Niagara had opened up its streets to recreational vehicle traffic to gain the economic benefits, and subsequently the town had opened all but two of its roads.

Highway Commissioner Eric Burmeister showed videos of what he described as a dangerous angle intersection County O and County N, and indicated a willingness to discuss other solutions to the recreational trail issues. Problems there include the angle of the highway crossing, terrain in general, and signs blocking vision.

Supervisor Al Sauld, who represents Town of Niagara on County Board, and Supervisor Gilbert Engel, who represents the City of Niagara, suggested something needs to be done at the County O and N intersection in any case, because it is indeed a dangerous crossing with limited visibility. Supervisor Ginger Deschane said she frequently travels in that area and has witnessed some near-accidents there involving school busses.

Changes in the recreational trail/highway ordinance were approved as recommended by the Infrastructure Committee, with the understanding that the recreational trail issues will be further addressed at future meetings.


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