The Kewaunee County Board passed a $22 million budget for 2020 this week, but not before making some adjustments to save 1.2 positions that were slated for elimination.
Supervisors voted 18-1 to approve a property tax levy of $12,360,443 and a tax rate of $7.08 per $1,000 of equalized value.
Rob Burke, regional director for the Extension offices in Door, Kewaunee and Manitowoc counties, asked the board to reconsider County Administrator Scott Feldt’s recommendation to eliminate one of two program assistants in the Kewaunee office.
He said the move would affect productivity and the level of service the office could provide.
“Both those assistants are working very hard to expand the number of people in Kewaunee County that our educators are able to help, whether it’s in farm management, nutrient management types of programs that we might be organizing – the program assistants play a huge role in making sure we get the word out and that that people come and participate in these educational programs,” Burke said. “It’s the quality and quantity of the programming that would be affected without both of our program assistants.”
The board’s Extension and Executive committees both voted to put the assistant back into the budget, but the Finance Committee removed it from the version that was submitted for approval.
Register of Deeds Germaine Bertrand and Land Information Services (LIS) Officer Steve Hansen had appealed to the board at the Oct. 15 budget hearing not to eliminate a part-time position in the register’s office whose work would be assumed by a land lister in the LIS office.
Again, the Executive Committee put the 0.2 full-time equivalent job back into the budget but was overridden by the Finance Committee.
Feldt said the program assistant position had been extended after a retirement a few years ago because additional support was needed in the run-up to the 2017 Farm Technology Days festival in Kewaunee County, which of course is now over. He also said comparably-sized counties in this region of the state are getting by with one UW-Extension program assistant.
He added that the county likely is going to be faced with “large staffing pressures” in coming years and looking either at staff reductions or a referendum to spend more money.
“The public will go back at the minutes, the public will go back and look at the video of tonight’s meeting, the public will go back and look at the stories that the media is writing tonight as to whether the board was willing to make those difficult – not easy, but difficult – decisions at this time instead of waiting,” Feldt said.
Taking Feldt’s comments as a reference to an expected new law enforcement center to replace the county’s obsolete jail, Supervisor Chuck Wagner said the board will need to convince the public about the need for a larger jail staff when the time comes to build a jail that meets contemporary standards.
“To use the viewpoint that we must trim employee numbers today – even those it’s slight, 1.2 – in order to make room for new jail employees in a couple of years is foolish and, in my opinion, downright irresponsible,” Wagner said.
With Supervisor Tom Romdenne making all but one motion, the board proceeded to make five amendments to the budget that preserved the 1.2 positions while reducing expenses by an equivalent amount elsewhere:
+ The Extension program assistant was re-inserted into the document ($78,011 in salary and benefits) by an 11-8 vote [YES: Supervisors Aaron Augustian, Cory Cochart, Mary Ellen Dobbins, Virginia Haske, Scott Jahnke, Kim Kroll, Gerald Paape, Thomas Romdenne, Kaye Shillin, Linda Teske, Charles Wagner; NO: Supervisors Thomas Cretney, Douglas Doell, Lee Luft, Joe Lukes, John Mastalir, Daniel Olson, Charles Schmitt, Robert Weidner; ABSENT: Kent Treml].
+ The Register of Deeds part-time position was re-inserted into the budget (an $8,000 expense) by a 10-9 vote [YES: Augustian, Cochart, Dobbins, Jahnke, Lukes, Paape, Romdenne, Shillin, Teske, Wagner; NO: Cretney, Doell, Haske, Kroll, Luft, Mastalir, Olson, Schmitt, Weidner].
+ Funding for a $40,000 investment in the private-public partnership Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. was shifted from the tax levy to the county’s Economic Development Fund, which comes from a settlement with Dominion, owners of the decommissioned Kewaunee Power Plant, by an 18-1 vote [Paape voting no].
+ A $60,000 feasibility study of broadband services was eliminated from the county’s contracted services budget by an 18-1 vote [Mastalir voting no].
Feldt cautioned that eliminating the study would not affect the tax levy, because it would have been funded through the county’s General Fund, not the levy, but Romdenne said he was OK with that.
“As the meetings of the Broadband Study Committee have progressed, I think there’s a pretty good consensus of what direction the county wants to go,” he said. “I don’t feel that we need to spend $60,000 on a feasibility study.”
+ Supervisor Linda Teske moved to shift $8,000 in revenues from the Land Information Fund to pay for the restored part-time employee, which passed 19-0.
+ Romdenne moved to remove from the levy a $20,000 expense for remodeling an area of the county fairgrounds exhibition building in Luxemburg as a new home for the UW-Extension office, which passed 19-0.
+ That left the levy $18,011 higher than it was before all of the changes, so Romdenne moved to reduce a $25,000 allocation for next year’s Lean Six Sigma projects by $18,011 until more information is available about the success of 2019 projects. That motion passed 16-3 [YES: Luft, Mastalir and Olson voting no].
+ The final vote on the levy and tax rate was 18-1 [Olson voting no].