August 10, 2022 – Washington Co., Wi – On a vote of 13 – 6 with two supervisors excused, the Washington County Board voted to place a $3.6 million safety referendum on the November 8, 2022 ballot. The proposal leaves it up to the voter to determine whether to raise their own property taxes by about 10% each year moving forward, ie a permanent tax increase.
The resolution read: Referendum to Increase the County Tax Levy to fund the
Washington County Anti-Crime Plan
The money would fund the Washington County Anti-Crime Plan which includes 30.5 positions at the jail, Sheriff’s Department, and to deal with mental health and opioid issues.
Click HERE for more details from the Public Safety Committee meeting
Those voting in favor of placing the referendum on the ballot include Joseph R. Vespalec, Marietta Bailey, Denis Kelling, Christopher Bossert, Linda Gurath, Doug Neumann, James Burg, Jodi Schulteis, Jeffrey Millikin, Carroll Merry, Jeffrey Schleif, Tony Thoma, and Michael Schwab.
Supervisors voting against: John Schodron, Brian Krebs, Kenneth Mikulec, Brian Gallitz, Pamela Konrath, and Lois Krueger-Gundrum.
Supervisors William Symicek and Carroll Merry were excused.
The issue of the $3.6 million referendum first came to the Public Safety Committee on July 20, 2022. The committee, which asked for more data on the issue, voted to move the item to the full county board three weeks later. There was no study committee or taskforce; supervisors were told of the urgency to push it forward so it could meet the August deadline for the November ballot.
Board members were given new language for the referendum moments before the meeting began. Other requested items involving data and studies was not provided as requested according to several supervisors.
Supervisor Carroll Merry, although excused from the meeting, submitted a letter to be read prior to discussion. Merry’s letter detailed how his district, the Village of Germantown, had a sign at the entrance that read ‘Gateway of Washington County.’
“Too many visitors are taking advantage of the small-town atmosphere. There once was a Mayberry R.F.D. atmosphere. People used to leave bikes out overnight and it was a place where an extra car could be left in the driveway – sadly that has changed. We can no longer leave cars in the driveway. Gas is syphoned and friendly front lawn lights are vandalized. Gas drive-offs are a problem. Merry urged support for putting the referendum on the November ballot.”
Other supervisors’ comments included:
Supervisor Denis Kelling – Normally I would prefer things like this are handled by us. I say it’s up to us to make tough decisions. Supervisor Merry was spot on – there is a need. We’ve seen a sharp rise in fentanyl. I support the resolution and will support it personally.
Supervisor Vespalec – questioned the 9.89% increase each fiscal year moving forward.
County executive Josh Schoemann said the levy would increase January 1 and every year it would be allowed to increase over net new construction.
Supervisor Kenneth Mikulec was an emphatic no. He mentioned supervisors being “tone deaf” to what is happening with inflation, and he said the scale of the ask in 31 new positions and the tax increase is too much at this time. “A 10% increase in the levy especially when people’s income is impacted. The effects of inflation. My 401K is getting hammered. Values of homes will drop off. I’m in sales and I think the public is in no mood. They’re being hammered and this will result in worse inflation. My gut tells me that this is going to fail and possibly fail big, and I will vote no.”
Supervisor Brian Gallitz – “I believe we can handle this within our normal operating budget. Based upon the jail needs, the detective and deputy needs we can and should do this incrementally based upon our population growth.”
Supervisor Marietta Bailey attended the meeting via a Zoom call. She asked what would happen if the referendum failed.
Schoemann said then the county would “limit its options and the timeline would be extended. The board has the ability to do it – this will take years. The question is what you hate more, growing government or growing crime?” Schoemann also said if the referendum doesn’t pass, “we keep doing what we’re doing. Can we move some things around 100%. It is time to put it in front of the people. Are people in a difficult situation, 100%. There is nothing simple about the referendum question – it is convoluted as possible.”
The question as it will appear on the November 8, ballot: Under state law, the increase in the levy of Washington County for the tax to be imposed for the next fiscal year (2023), is limited to 3.61% based on Washington County’s best estimate, which results in a levy of $37,734,920. Shall Washington County be allowed to exceed this limit and increase the levy for the next fiscal year (2023), for the purpose of funding the Washington County Anti-Crime Plan by a total of 9.89%, which results in a levy of $40,018,760, and on an ongoing basis, include the increase of $3,600,000 each fiscal year going forward?
Supervisor Lois Gundrum – “I’m having a problem with this. We passed a resolution to hold levy limits for municipalities and counties and it is hypocritical of us to pass this when we just got done telling others not to raise their levy limits. I’m concerned about the hypocrisy of that. We have it in our levy to put this in place and we’re not going to hire 30 in one year. I think we need to increase manpower of our law enforcement, but I will vote no because it shouldn’t be taken by raising the levy limit.”
Supervisor Jodi Schulteis – “We need the people to make the decision.”
Supervisor Pan Konrath – With us being most conservative we should be able to find other means to fund this. We voted to bring this here, but we also were supposed to be given more data. We don’t have that data. It would be respectful of our community as a whole to do a tax-and-spend approach especially with economic uncertainty. Everyone supports beefing up the Sheriff’s Department but not by raising taxes.”
Supervisor Brian Krebs – “My biggest problem is how fast this is coming. This ref discussion should have been started sooner. This doesn’t give us facts. What are neighboring counties at? You don’t have all the info here. If we would pass it – our tax bill would go down $27. How much would it go down if we don’t pass this? What is the real dollar amount – the levy rate? At the end of the day, we’re still increasing spending and that needs to be transparent. What happens when levy limits go down. It’s not going to stay this great and I’m fearful of that. I’ve been taking calls since the Hwy W project and everyone who called me has said don’t do it. There are a lot of unanswered questions. This just came up 4 – 5 weeks ago and we don’t have all the data.
Supervisor Linda Gurath said she believed in giving the people the choice. “I know some people are hurting financially but I think people can afford this.”
Supervisor Kenneth Mikulec was the final comment. “The vast majority of people are not paying attention and a 10% increase – people aren’t attuned. I do not like going to referendum. I don’t think county government can solve all these problems. If we don’t have a change at the top – we will have problems at the border and fentanyl. We can hire deputies for every cornstalk and cow, and it won’t be enough. Just adding 10% to our spending – it will hurt people. It’s the scale that bothers me. The ask is too big and it’s tone deaf to the plight of the public.”
Schoemann – “Majority of people said they don’t want to do it. You lose nothing by sending it to referendum.”