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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Marinette County Taxes Are Down Slightly Again

Issue Date: November 1, 2018

With little discussion and no dissent, Marinette County Board on Tuesday, Oct. 30 adopted the county budget and tax levy for 2019 as proposed by County Administrator John LeFebvre. The tax rate of $4.192 per $1,000 of assessed value is down slightly from last year's rate of $4.257, and $4.32 in 2016, despite an increase in the operating budget. This was possible because of a 3.14 percent increase in equalized value due to new growth.

"This is a very conservative budget, but yet it still achieves capital improvements and other things to move us forward," County Board Chair Mark Anderson declared after the budget was approved. He thanked LeFebvre, Finance Director Laura Mans and county department heads and staff for the work they had done to prepare it.

In addition to the operating levy, the total rate includes the debt service levy, which was again set at 25 cents per $1,000, and a levy for bridge aids on properties located outside of village or city limits.

The Board meeting started with regular business at 9 a.m., and then adjourned for the mandatory public hearing on the budget at 10 a.m. No members of the public were present other than county employees and news media, and and no one addressed the board for or against the budget. Board Chair Mark Anderson said there also were no written comments received on the budget.

LeFebvre asked Mans to briefly explain the budget, which she did. Before adopting the budget the board approved an amendment adding $169,220 to expenses and income due to a grant of $169,220 for camera and video surveillance system upgrades at the Law Enforcement Center. Because this is a wash the change had no effect on the levy.

Supervisor Robert Holley asked about a provision for $206,295 in the budget under "purchase of services." LeFebvre explained this was placed under economic development as a pending payment to Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI), and would represent an increase from the present $2 per capita to $5 per capita. However, LeFebvre said that money will not be paid unless and until the county reaches an agreement with MCABI. If there is no agreement, it could be used elsewhere for economic development, but only if County Board approved that use.

(MCABI is working toward making the changes that LeFebvre has requested in its makeup and bylaws, and has scheduled a day-long retreat meeting at Northland Camp on Friday, Nov. 9 to hammer out plans for what they would like to become. One of the suggestions expressed at the MCABI meeting on Thursday, Oct. 25 was that they might change bylaws as LeFebvre requested to eliminate appointed elected officials from the board, and then become a private not for profit corporation that could sell its services to government entities, including Marinette County, the City of Marinette, and perhaps even Menominee city and county, as well as municipalities within the county or counties. The MCABI board is also looking at budgets with and without funding from Marinette County.)

At the 9 a.m. start of the meeting Anderson noted that Supervisor Don Pazynski had wanted to address the board in regard to the groundwater contamination in the Town of Peshtigo from Johnson Controls fire extinguisher testing. However, he said this is not the right forum for that discussion, and since Pazynski is a supervisor and not a member of the general public he would not be allowed to speak on non-agenda items during time for public comment.

Pazynski said later he wants to urge the county to get involved in a push for quick removal of the contaminant from surface and groundwaters, and may ask to have that placed on the agenda for the December board meeting.

UWEX Area Director Nancy Crevier introduced Ben Hoppe, the recently hired UWEX 4-H program coordinator for Marinette and Oconto counties.

Hoppe said he has been here for two months, and has found it a pleasure to meet the people here and find so many exciting things to do. He formerly worked for the National Park Service and was impressed with the beauties the local area offers.

Stressing the value of 4-H, Hoppe said in the past year 4-H members have done volunteer work in Marinette County that would have been worth $45,000 if they were paid.

To questions from supervisors, Hoppe said he spends more time in his Oconto County office because it is closer to his home in Green Bay, but he does spend at least one day a week in his office in the Marinette County Courthouse.

LeFebvre said there are several vacancies on boards and committees and they are struggling to find people willing to serve on the Board of Adjustment. He invited anyone interested to come forward.

LeFebvre said he had spoken with Corey Hinkel of Packerland Broadband regarding plans to improve internet accessibility in Marinette County by making use of "TV white space." Marinette County had made a $60,000 commitment to this project.

LeFebvre said Packerland is a little behind schedule on the project because the manufacturer they had been working with to develop the TV white space technology failed to achieve its goals. They now are working with a Canadian firm which is able to exceed their speed goal, and one tower using their technology has been installed in the Upper Peninsula and is working very well, he said.

Packerland now is working with people who own the towers they will need to use in this area. They expect to have their system up and running by early spring of 2019. Packerland is also working with Four Seasons Resort to add a location on Miscauno Island that would further expand the areas they can serve.

The Marinette County Tourism Alliance is considering the possibility of partnering with the City of Marinette to form a Visitors and Convention Bureau, LeFebvre told the board. He said they would also be glad to work with other communities. Mayor Steve Genisot has told him the City of Marinette might be willing to put some of its room tax dollars into financing a Visitors and Convention Bureau for the area. Currently the county contracts with the City of Marinette for the services of Tourism and Marketing Director Melissa Ebsch.

The state and federal governments are closing out the old CDBG grant and revolving loan fund programs, which are handled for Marinette County by Marinette County Industrial Development Corporation (MCIDC). Currently MCIDC has $920,000 of state revolving loan money, $260,000 of it as cash on hand and $670,000 out in loans. If they repay all of this to the state they can then in the next two years get the money back with no payback as funding for eligible projects and will also get to keep the amounts repaid on the loans that are currently outstanding. LeFebvre said the county can afford to do that because there is currently $670,000 available in the separate county-financed revolving loan fund. He said many areas were just sitting on their loan fund balances and not using the money to promote economic growth. The county could use the money for several projects that would not have been eligible under the old rules, including public services projects that benefit low to moderate income households, and handicap access projects, including the courthouse front steps and easier access to the county's scenic waterfalls. He said it will be up to County Board to decide what projects for which they seek funding.

There were comments that the pay back and then get back proposals from the state seemed foolish. There were also questions about the wisdom of assuming the outstanding loans. Supervisor Al Sauld asked about the track record of loan paybacks, and the percentage of defaults.

LeFebvre said they need to do all the loans or none, but he felt most of them are almost certain to be fully repaid.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison, who is also a member of the MCABI Board, said in the past several large loans had defaults.LeFebvre felt perhaps 25 percent of the amounts loaned had gone into default, but he did not believe the percentage of loans that defaulted was anywhere near that percentage.

Repaving of the parking lot at the UW Fieldhouse in Marinette is complete and the new lights are in, LeFebvre said, adding that Graese Electric had done a good job.

He is in the process of filling the Medical Examiner position that will be needed right after the first of the year when the elected County Coroner position ends. LeFebvre said he and and Public Services Committee Chair Ken Keller would be interviewing candidates for that job later in the week. To questions from Supervisor Ted Sauve, LeFebvre said the medical examiner job is is to be a full time position, with a salary of $55,000 to $63,000 a year, and the medical examiner responsibilities will be combined with work for the Health and Human Services Department. LeFebvre said there were a dozen applicants and about half of them have been selected for interviews.

Changes in the employees health insurance program are in progress, and need to be complete by the first of the year, LeFebvre said, because coverage through the WCA Health Insurance Trust will end. They had proposed a 13.5 percent rate increase for next year, and after negotiations would have lowered that increase by only 2 percent. Employees will have two sets of providers to choose from and benefits will be maintained, LeFebvre said.

The Health and Human Services Committee in November should be approving a lease and contract agreement with a private firm to run the juvenile group home in the Town of Peshtigo that was formerly known as Crossroads and now will be known as Share Academy.

The board approved re-appointment of Mary Meyer of Pound to the Bay Lakes Regional Planning Commission and Ann Hartnell as a new appointee from Marinette County. Hartnell, formerly of Wausaukee and now of Marinette, a few months ago retired from her position as MCABI Executive Director.

Board members who had attended the Wisconsin Counties Association Convention reported briefly on what they had learned at sessions they attended.

Over the objections from Supervisor Pazynski the board approved appointment Michael Elliott as a Johnson Controls representative on the Local Emergency Planning Committee with Ryan Suennen as an alternate. Pazynski declared his town has a pollution emergency that was caused by Johnson Controls,and asked, "Isn't this the fox guarding the hen house?"

Emergency Government Director Eric Burmeister explained the LEPC purpose is to gather information for the Emergency Government Director on places where specific chemicals are used and stored, how they are delivered, and what can be done in case a spill occurs. The contamination in the Town of Peshtigo that resulted from years of testing is entirely outside the scope of the LEPC, Burmeister said.

The board approved reducing the speed limit near Boundary Lake on the western boundary of the county to 45 miles per hour as requested by Oconto County.

Over objections from Supervisor Gail Wanek the board approved purchase of a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado with a V-plow installed from Ewald Chevrolet Buick of Oconomowoc at a cost of $36,066. "We need an explanation of why we are going out of town for a $290 price difference," Wanek declared. "What are we getting in Oconomowoc that we are not getting locally?"

She was told the Ewald purchase is through the state bid process, and the $290 bid difference she referred to did not meet bid specifications. Ewald will drive the vehicle to Marinette and park it in the courthouse parking lot so there is no cost for delivery. Guarantee work will need to be done by local dealers, however.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison said they could create an overlay stamp so supervisors will know which bids do not meet specifications, and that idea was welcomed by everyone.

The 5-year lease agreement for the Senior Center at Niagara for $1 a year was renewed without dissent.


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