With a handful of final tweaks, the Kewaunee County Board on Tuesday (Nov. 10) passed a 2021 county budget supported in part by a $12.687 million property tax levy with a mill rate of $7.06 per $1,000 of equalized valuation.

The owner of a hypothetical home valued at $100,000 can expect that the county’s portion of this year’s tax bill will amount to $706, a $0.28% decrease from last year. The county plans to spend $24 million in the coming year, a 6.2% increase, and the levy represents a 2.64% increase from a year ago.

The final vote was 16-4, with Supervisors Timothy Kinnard, Joanne Lazansky, Milt Swagel and Chuck Wagner voting against the budget.

None of the dissenting supervisors spoke before voting, but Wagner opened discussion on the budget by criticizing a vote last month to forego the “step” salary increases built into the county employee pay plan and instead institute a 1.65% cost-of-living increase across the board. County Administrator Scott Feldt’s budget proposal included both the COLA and the step increases.

Wagner recalled the upheaval after a 2014 vote on employee compensation that led five department heads and the county administrator to resign. He said it costs a lot of money to replace an employee, citing a 2011 sheriff’s department study that showed that at that time it cost $35,000 or more to hire and train one new deputy.

Eliminating the step increases cut $47,000 in spending from the budget, Wagner said, adding, “That’s an awful small price to pay if we have another upheaval and have to replace a lot more employees because of what this board is going to do tonight.”

In late changes made to the budget Tuesday, the board:

  • reversed a plan to make county employees out of five Human Services case managers who now work as contractors, which reduced projected spending by $17,333;
  • reduced the professional development budget from $24,500 to $12,000, still less than the county has spent the past two years; and
  • approved a $40,000 contribution to the operation of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. (KCEDC) but voted to take the funds out of a segregated economic development fund rather than the property tax levy. The fund was created from contributions negotiated with Dominion Resources Inc., the former operators of the decommissioned Kewaunee Power Station, to help soften the impact of the annual property taxes lost when the nuclear plant closed.

Amber Hewett, who was named interim executive director of KCEDC last month after the dismissal of Richard Baker, appeared during the public comment section of the meeting to ask for the board’s support as it re-examines its mission. The board also received a half-dozen letters in favor of the KCEDC allocation.

Hewett acknowledged that the public-private corporation was struggling to refocus its vision and mission for the future.

“That being said, we have two top priorities for 2021: 1) hire an executive director who is better aligned for our county and can get stuff done for our county, and 2) to pull everybody together — the county, our towns, our villages, cities, businesses, farmers, key influential people, to put together a countywide strategic plan for our economic development,” Hewett said. “We can’t do this alone, though: We need the support of the County Board and all of the other investors who have supported KCEDC so far.”

The $69,833 total adjustment was applied toward paying down the county’s debt service.

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