July 21, 2022 – Washington Co., WI – The Washington County Public Safety Committee approved a proposed $3.6 million public safety referendum to increase the budget for the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
If the referendum is approved the $3.6 million would continue in perpetuity meaning it would be a regular tax every year moving forward.
The recommendation to advance the referendum was approved by the Public Safety Committee on a vote of 5-0-1. Those voting in favor included supervisor Jeff Schleif, Jeff Millikin, Chris Bossert, Tony Thoma, and Pamela Konrath. Supervisor Brian Krebs was absent.
The proposal will be addressed by the full County Board at its August meeting and if passed by the board will appear on the November 8, 2022, ballot.
A couple of bullet points from the Wednesday, July 20, 2022, Public Safety Committee meeting. The full draft of the Washington County Anti-Crime Plan is also below.
- The referendum would cover an additional 30.5 full-time positions; there would be an increase in staffing with Sheriff’s Department patrol or mental health. There were several requests for additional data for specifics and supervisors were told that information is forthcoming.
- County Executive Josh Schoemann said, “The county board could fund it (the $3.6 million) if they so choose.”
- “Bottom line is, if the county board chose to fund all these positions on their own, they have the ability to do that. My concern is it’s such a big increase, relatively speaking, I think the people of Washington County should make that choice. If they don’t want to increase their tax rate, increase the levy, then we don’t,” said Schoemann.
- “There’s enough property tax levity and flexibility, because we have not been taking the full amount of levy for years. The three times in the last eight years that we’ve cut the levy, the state allows you to go back and take some of that, if you so choose,” Schoemann said.
- “There’s major crimes back to the 1990s and in the 80s. I think it’s just the frequency is happening much more, and I think this is at the top of people’s mind right now. And as I mentioned, the sheriff’s office crime in particular is the highest concern of the county board and the community,” said Schoemann.
- Sheriff Martin Schulteis said, “There is minimum staffing to properly serve Washington County. We haven’t kept up with the county itself.”
- Schulteis said some changes would include eliminating some administrative positions and “really focus on boots on the ground serving citizens of Washington County.”
- The Sheriff and county administration were not prepared with data on out-of-county bookings, crimes committed outside area. More data was promised at a later date, however the committee had to vote on the proposed referendum during its meeting July 20, 2022 as it was an action item on the agenda.
- In past government scenarios there is a study conducted or committee formed to discuss major issues, similar to how Washington County approached the issues surrounding the Samaritan Home. There was no study or committee formed to review the Washington County Anti-Crime Plan. Schoemann said he met with Schulteis and they discussed the issue. The meeting July 20, 2022 was the first time it was brought before county supervisors.
- The decision to put the referendum on the November 8, 2022, ballot must be made by the county board at its August 10, 2022, meeting as the deadline to place it on the ballot is August 15, 2022, according to Schoemann.
- Supervisor Brian Gallitz questioned the copy above noting ‘fiscal year 2023’ and how the public may think this is just a one-year charge of $3.6 million. Schoemann said, “As they were asking about the language about the next fiscal year, there is an amendment that is going to be made. So, it’s clear this is perpetual.” Which means, if the referendum is approved it would be an additional $3.6 million tax every year moving forward, forever.
- “A lot of work has been put into it and I fully support going to referendum. It is high time and part of population growth. You’ve done a great job getting by,” said County Supervisor Jeff Schleif.
- Supervisor Pam Konrath said, “I’m concern with the lack of detail at this point to make a concerted decision.” Sheriff Schulteis responded, “We’ll have more data in time for the county board.”
- Schulteis provided details on July 4 staffing. “There were 5 deputies working. Can backfill with OT. If there is a subject at the hospital, then 2 deputies are there and there are 3 deputies covering the county. We rely on mutual aid – we can only do that so much.”
- Schoemann said, “What this boils down to is do we want to bring the minimum staffing level up so that yes, it’s always going to be hard to be staffed during the holiday, or on a weekend in particular in the summer. But do we want that minimum to be five? Or do you want it to be seven or eight, because the proposal we’re considering would increase it for a second, third shift 8,8,7.”
- Washington County received $26.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars.
- Supervisor Pan Konrath asked, “Why choose to go to referendum, are there other options like ARPA funds?” Schoemann said, “We can do that. It’s (ARPA) a one-time revenue source – we could probably swing that for 2 to 3 years and then you have to figure out how to increase the salary.” ARPA funding has to be spent by 2026.
- Part of the discussion, but not part of the referendum, included every deputy being assigned a squad to take home. Questioned whether a squad was more a capital expense when the proposal on the table is an operation referendum Schoemann said, “The upfront cost of the squads is the capital, the way we budget for ongoing vehicle purchases is more of an operational, so we treat it kind of like a lease. So, once we have the total number of squads built into the budget, we have that operationally funded because we know every three, six, well I guess, if we go to this many squads every six years, you have to replace them. So just like you know, your budget for your car payment, we basically do the same thing.”
- Supervisor Pam Konrath tried to bring up how the referendum would affect the Samaritan Home issue, which had been a hot topic in the county since 2019. The Samaritan Home was even highlighted by Schoemann in 2020 as a project that was a mission for the county. Konrath was told several times she could not discuss the Samaritan because it was not on the agenda.
- Why has the Samaritan lost its importance? “It hasn’t lost its importance,” said Schoemann. “But this is priority. This is the highest priority; Samaritan is a priority, and those conversations will still happen.”
- “I just and I told staff this last week, it’s not realistic to think we can do a referendum which is going to clearly consume the headlines, and at the same time make a decision simultaneously on the Samaritan. We’ll work on it together. But the Samaritan decision is going to follow whatever happens with the referendum,” said Schoemann.
- Supervisor Brian Galitz said he was interested in bringing it to the voters but he was looking for more data. “I don’t like to make a decision on emotion. What is our incident rate for property crime and violent crime and what is a good median average? Where are we appropriately staffed? People are going to be asking these questions. I need more data to support this. I would hope we can get what the crime prevention plan entails. Is it stop and frisk, is it crime prevention? The jail site…is there a shift in leadership staff. Two leaders and six people. Do we need two supervisors for six people? Do we have the data to support that? The purchase of squads, what are the response times? Where does that mental health person sit? Is it appropriate to have mental health report to law enforcement? I look froward to the data.”
- “We want to make clear, this is perpetual,” said Schoemann.
- “A fiscal hawk said, ‘I can’t afford this – my We Energies bill went up $60 a month,'” said Schoemann.
- Below is the lead story in the quarterly Washington County newsletter issue July 2022 delivered via US Postal to 55,000 people in Washington County.
- “Bottom line is I’ve made clear to the county board, you gotta make this decision. Like, it’s got to be published, we need to be able to move, because if you do the math, you’re basically 90 days, 90 days away from the November ballot,” said Schoemann.
Click HERE to watch the full meeting of the Public Safety Committee on July 20, 2022. The issue of the $3.6 million referendum starts at the 18-minute mark.
This is a working story, and more details will be added when information becomes available.