August 9, 2018 – Washington Co., WI – Washington County has been compelled to look outside the box in an effort to control costs, while continuing to maintain the essential services that provide a positive quality of life for its’ citizens.
In an opinion piece, outgoing Washington County Sheriff Dale Schmidt criticized a few initiatives I discussed with him while serving as Chair of the Public Safety committee.
The cost of government has been rising at a rate that continues to exceed our revenues, creating a gap that grows wider each year. Levy caps prevent us from raising taxes and incentivize borrowing to fill in the gaps. Borrowing to fill a hole in the budget is irresponsible and redirects a portion of your tax dollars to interest payments. The option to place a referendum on the ballot to raise your taxes does not address the root cause of that budgetary gap.
Priority-based budgeting has helped us address how we provide services and how we direct your tax dollars to pay for those services. In an effort to streamline government and make it more efficient and responsive to the citizens, Washington County is working collaboratively with our neighbor partners, in Washington County and with other counties, and as partners, we all have an equal say as to how any consolidations, mergers, and sharing of services take shape. Our goal in sharing services is not only to save tax dollars, but actually maintain or enhance our current services. Our merged Health Department with Ozaukee County, our shared forensic pathologist with Waukesha County to assist our Medical Examiner’s office and sharing an aquatic invasive species specialist with Waukesha County to protect our valuable lake resources are just a few of the initiatives that make Washington County more responsive to the needs of its’ citizens.
Administrator Schoemann works at the behest of and answers to the 26 County Board Supervisors that are elected to represent each district. He is tasked with goals prepared by the Executive Committee that is chaired by the Board Chairman. Each and every task he undertakes he does so with the authority of the entire County Board. We set the policy and the direction for Washington County and Mr. Schoemann is charged to make those goals happen.
Providing an appropriate level of service and finding and hiring the employees that best serve the citizens of Washington County is one of our most important tasks. Working with our legislators on legislation that positively impacts our citizens is vital, as we found when merging our health department with Ozaukee County. The addition of a public affairs coordinator will have a positive impact on our citizens, working collaboratively with our county partners to find ways to work cooperatively, freeing Mr. Schoemann to spend more time in his administrator’s role here. And this position falls in with the expected duties of County Boards to focus on long-term rather than past or short-term, conduct strategic planning that addresses key issues and opportunities with an emphasis on a shared vision of what the county looks like and how it functions in the future.
Having spent 29 years in law enforcement, I have been a staunch advocate to make certain that the Sheriff has the tools and personnel to properly maintain public safety. I have seen law enforcement transform in response to an evolving landscape. Technological advances and more effective training has revolutionized the field of law enforcement and how it serves and protects the public. Those that fail to adapt to those changes are not only destined to fail, but neglect their responsibility to protect and serve.
Local control is always the buzz word to ward off any challenges to change with the times, because after all, we’ve always done it this way. Learning to confront potential challenges proactively makes finding workable solutions to those challenges simpler than reacting to a problem after it has occurred.
One of the initiatives discussed with Sheriff Schmidt was to offer to Washington County partners the ability to provide dispatch services for them at no cost. Funds saved by each municipality could then be earmarked to maintain or repair roads. As many municipalities had passed resolutions requesting a portion of the County sales tax, primarily due to the rising cost of roads, this would save those municipalities more than the amount of sales tax that they had requested.
Another initiative was to explore sharing a jail and circuit court with one or more county, Ozaukee and/or Waukesha. After the closing of the Lincoln Hills juvenile facility, one of the solutions offered by Governor Walker was to rehouse juvenile offenders in county jails contiguous to Milwaukee County. The initiative to share a jail/circuit court facility could provide several things;
- The ability to create a court dedicated to prosecuting drug offenses,
- The ability to share judges and allow caseloads to be more efficiently handled,
- The ability to allocate District Attorneys to prosecute cases more efficiently.
- The ability to repurpose each County Jail/Circuit Court and make them juvenile holding facilities and courts.
Another long term initiative would be to explore creating a metro sheriffs’ department. As this has been done effectively in other jurisdictions through the US (the Village of Richfield currently contracts with the Sheriffs’ office to provide police services) combining all police departments into a metro unit could provide the following;
- The ability to eliminate the need for mutual aid pacts for major events,
- All would fall under one umbrella for liability insurance and worker’s comp,
- The ability to better allocate resources in a more timely fashion at major events,
- No issues with who is in charge of any scene,
- All local police officers would be hired by the Sheriff’s Department and assigned to their local communities.
As stated, these are some out-of-the-box solutions that could create efficiencies without negatively impacting services, and in most cases actually provide better services. I agree with Sheriff Schmidt that agencies that are too small struggle to meet the needs of the citizens they serve.
The population of Washington County is 135,000, 30,000 more than Green Bay, so I would challenge the assertion that it would be too big to be personal and responsive to the community.
Where I totally disagree is his perception that this is a political struggle. The constitutional authority delegated to a County Sheriff does not require a “fight” or an adversarial relationship with the County Board. It requires that we work together collaboratively to better serve the citizens of Washington County. We will continue to explore ways to provide the best possible services that positively impact the quality of life for the citizens of Washington County.
If we fail to do so, we fail in our responsibility to the citizens that we were elected to serve.
Washington County Board Chair
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