County Value Up 3.7%, Tax Rate Will Be Down
Recently released state figures include the wonderful news that Marinette County's equalized value went up 3.69 percent since last year, County Administrator John LeFebvre declared in the annual budget message presented at the Marinette County Board's regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 31.
LeFebvre said equalized value of the state as a whole went up only 4 percent, "so our growth is almost at the state level." New construction in the county totaled $277,000, or 1.77 percent, which is more than double the .76 percent growth last year, "so in terms of economic development, we're going in the right direction." Sales tax collections are expected to total $3.5 million, up 7.6 percent from the 2017 budgeted amount.
County Board Chair Mark Anderson was pleased that the proposed budget addresses the three main priority needs of the county and has started to look at some of the wants, while including a slight decrease in the tax rate, but cautioned that it is not quite a balanced budget, since it uses $1,498,775 of reserve funds.
He said the state legislature "has no interest at all" in raising the existing levy limits, so the only way county spending can be increased or continued at the current level without using reserve funds is to increase other revenues.
The only significant areas in which county income can be increased in addition to earnings from the Forestry and Land Department are growth in sales tax collections and equalized value growth from new construction, both of which are significantly dependent on economic growth.
LeFebvre noted the budget does provide some added help for tourism prospects. This fall Parks Department seasonal employees worked an extra month to put up waterfall tour signs directing visitors to some of the county's main attractions, and the 2018 budget also allows keeping them working for a month longer than usual to allow work on special projects.
The meeting included approval of a contract with DMI Studios to create a website for Marinette County Tourism at a cost of $18,930, with the money to come from the County Administrator's 2017 budget. Information Services Director Kevin Solway told the board the new site will be user friendly and allow access via cell phones and tablets so visitors can get information while traveling.
Neither the Tourism Alliance nor the board's Economic Development and Tourism Committee had input into that recommendation. Members of the Tourism Alliance at their October meeting had expressed hope that they will at least be allowed input into contents of the revamped site.
DMI studios is already revamping the county's general website to make it more user friendly and more attractive, Solway explained in a power point presentation to the board on the new general county site. The firm is also working on a redesign for the Parks and Forestry site, being planned under the direction of Parks and Forest Administrator Pete Villas.
County Board will vote on the budget after a public hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14. The overall proposed budget for 2018 includes a slight reduction in the tax rate, from a total of $4.56 per $1,000 last year to $4.11 for the 2017 tax bill.
The unassigned fund balance started this year at $8.7 million and LeFebvre expects it to be at least that amount by the end of this year. He noted auditors recommend keeping a fund balance of at 17 percent of the total budget, which is the amount set by county policy, and the reserve funds are in fact more than double that, at 35 percent, without counting the $19 million in the special property tax reduction fund. That fund balance includes the $7.5 million loaned earlier this year to the City of Marinette for construction of the recreation/convention center that is currently underway.
As proposed, the budget provides adequate funding for the county to continue the same level of service in areas of public safety, maintaining the county road system, providing services to the most vulnerable residents, and in general continue operations through 2018, LeFebvre told the board.
He thanked Human Resources Director Jennifer Holtger for negotiating so successfully with the county's insurance carriers that there is no increase in premiums for this year. Original budget calculations had set aside $325,000 to cover possible increases, and Holtger's negotiations allowed putting that amount into the contingency fund instead. LeFebvre said it will be available there for projects that might come up during the year, for example replacing the communications tower atop the courthouse or changes to the old law enforcement center on Ella court street behind the courthouse if it is converted to some other use.
The tax levy drop came despite increases in pay for county employees due to implementation of the Carlson Dettman wage study this year.
Action items at Tuesday's County Board meeting included four job changes due to appeals of Carlson Dettman position evaluations. In each case, the old job is being eliminated in favor of a new one that LeFebvre said equates to the job the individuals affected have actually been doing.
In the Sheriff's department, new Administrative Assistant II and III positions were created, while an accounting clerk and one Administrative Assistant I post were eliminated. In both Health and Human Services and Forestry and Parks departments, individuals who had been doing work far beyond the duties called for in an Administrative Assistant I position will now be compensated for their actual responsibilities in newly created Administrative Assistant II positions.
The meeting included reports from Wisconsin Counties Association spokesman John Hochkammer on authority of County Board committee chairs, and from UW Colleges and UW Extension North Region Dean Keith Montgomery on the Wisconsin Colleges realignment.
During time for public comment at the start of the meeting Delores Konrad expressed strong opposition to the proposed restructuring of the state's colleges system that makes the UW campus in Marinette a satellite of UW-Green Bay. The Board of Regents is to act on the realignment at its meeting on Thursday, Nov. 9.
A proposal to open all county highways to ATV use had been on the agenda but was removed after the Highway Department reversed a previous recommendation. Sheriff Jerry Sauve had expressed strong objections, citing safety as his main concern.
Mike Newingham, a Pembine businessman and supervisor on Pembine Town Board, strongly urged the county to reconsider allowing ATVs access to the trails via county highways, and cited statistics showing ATVs are not a significant hazard in Michigan, where they are allowed on on all county highways. He said Marinette County will lose this very valuable tourist attraction to Michigan if at least some of the county roads are not open for access to ATV routes. In Michigan in 2016 there were three ATV accidents reported on major roads and no deaths, he said.
Other County Board action on Tuesday included:
*Approval of Sue Hinch as interim director of the Child Support office, effective Oct. 29. LeFebvre said she has already been doing the work without the title or the extra pay involved.
*Approval of a three year extension of the independent auditing contract with Schenck for $46,000, $46,500, and $46,950 for 2017, 2018 and 2019 audit years respectively.
*Full board support was expressed for a resolution supporting the Marinette County District Attorney's request for the state to provide a special prosecutor for two years to eliminate a 400-case backlog.
*Unanimous support of a resolution asking the state not to repeal an existing law the prohibits issuing Sulfide Ore mining permits.
*Agreements with Coleman Engineering for two survey contracts priced at $8,750 and $45,800, and with Lakes for remonumentation for $23,350.
*Approval of the 2018 annual work plan for the Forestry Department.
*Appointments of Richard Rickaby, representing Marinette County Highway Department; Assistant Chief John Pennings as Marinette City Fire Department alternate, and Lynette Brosig, with Shirley Prudhomme as alternate, representing the Peshtigo Times on the Local Emergency Planning Commission were unanimously approved.
*Application to the Wisconsin Land Information Program for a 2018 base budget Strategic Initiative Grant for the Land Information Department was unanimously approved.
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