This was the last regular meeting of 2016 for Common Sense Citizens of Washington County. We would like to invite all members and potentially interested members to attend our Christmas Party at The Moose Lodge on Wednesday night, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m.
The meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance led by President Chris Jenkins.
He reminded everyone of the upcoming elections in Spring of 2017, a few of which include the even Aldermanic districts, 2, 4, 6 and 8, in West Bend, the Mayor’s seat, three WB School Board seats, and Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler is up for re-election.
We then welcomed our feature speaker, recently recognized nationally as one of the top 100 Influencers in Local Government, Washington County Administrator, Joshua Schoemann.
The meeting was casual with a lot of good information about the most recent happenings in Washington County government and it’s status financially, interspersed with questions and comments from those in attendance.
Joshua started out with information about the fiscal status of the County, discussing Priority Based Budgeting and the 2017 budget that was just passed in November.
“We have about 1,300 programs in the County, and about 500 of them will be looked at. One, for instance, will be the Historical Society…how does that get funded in the future? There are many programs within departments that really need to be looked at. One of the biggest departments that will need to be looked at is the Parks Dept. Do we continue to fund them, or do we charge people to use them? Not everyone uses the parks. We may approach the municipalities and ask them to take them over”.
In discussing the budget, Joshua noted, “My first year here we were able to decrease the levy by $1 million. We were really able to lean out. This year we will unfortunately have to raise the levy. The costs of running the County are going up, and the revenue just isn’t enough to keep up. We have an aging population, coupled with increases in costs to run programs and a 10% increase in health care costs for our employees. Ideally the County will continue to welcome new industry, which is our best form of revenue.” Unfortunately though, our County is running out of physical space for industry.
It was asked if the work of determining which programs will ultimately stay and which ones will be cut or will have to find other funding, will be done by the Supervisors during regular meeting hours or would there have to be more hours put in to this process. Joshua stated that it will pretty much get done during the course of normal meetings, but the six committees (formerly 10) will have to take on a little more work to get this done.
Over the last 10 years the County has been reducing it’s debt and therefore taxes were able to be reduced. Well, the debt is virtually gone now, therefore that avenue of being able to cut taxes has disappeared. Joshua reminded us about Milwaukee’s new Wheel Tax. He predicts that maybe a dozen County governments/municipalities may go that route in the near future.
There was some discussion about the contentious reliever route that has been proposed in Hartford to help ease traffic on Hwy 60 through the city and give the drivers a more direct route into Hartford’s Industrial Park on the city’s west side.
It was noted that it has not been an easy process, especially with the Town of Hartford and the City not being on the same page to begin with, according to Supervisor Denis Kelling. The route would theoretically run from I41 to County Highway K, west to Hwy U and into the park. That is still a work in progress.
The removal of the old Senior Center and the Annex II on the County grounds was brought up by Paula Becker, who also asked about the new homeless facility being built to the south of that area. “That space (where the buildings were) will be seeded and the parking lots reworked a bit. The Senior Center now has space in Kettlebrook Church on W Washington Ave and the Annex was basically just sitting empty costing the taxpayers money.”
As for the homeless shelter, it will sit in an area between the Gehl Company and County grounds, and will house up to 14 men or women at a time, for a period of no more than 30 days, it was thought. The money raised for that comes mainly from the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul and Delta Defense is working diligently to help raise much of the funds for the rest.
When asked about his job and how he likes it, “In the past three years, there’s been a large culture shift at the County. It’s changed over from a much more casual workplace to one that is run more like a business.”
According to Schoemann in describing his first three years. Of the 19 department heads, 6 are elected officials, and 13 are employees hired by the County. Soon, the 13th employee will be gone from the original 13 at the start of his appointment, and this goes to show you just what a change there’s been. Despite these challenges, Schoemann is very proud of the work that’s been done so far and believes that the County is headed in the right direction.
The meeting ended with a question about the status of the County Treasurer’s position and it was thought that the vote by the Supervisors, to voice their confidence in the ability of Jane Merten to do the job, will take place in January. This follows the unfortunate incident last June in which $88,000 was inadvertently wired to scammers, posing as Administrator Schoemann. The money has since been recouped, in part by the work of the Sheriff’s Dept and via the County’s Cyber Fraud Insurance policy. Who knew we needed one of those?
A big thank you to Joshua Schoemann for taking time out of his very busy schedule to bring Common Sense Citizens of Washington County up to date!
Paula Becker, CSCWC Secretary and past President