Tag Archives: Washington County

County Board Debates Golf Course Improvements

Heh.

Members of the Executive Committee voted during their Tuesday meeting to approve the expansion of a deck and patio area at the Washington County Golf Course. Supervisors Rick Gundrum and Mark McCune voted against the measure.

Another supervisor, Michael Bassill, supported the proposal, but only to allow his colleagues to weigh in when it appears before the full County Board in a few weeks.

“Basically, what we charged parks (staff) and the golf course with is, ‘Find a way to make yourself fiscally independent of the tax levy,’” County Administrator Joshua Schoemann said. “That is exactly what Craig (Czerniejewski) and Jamie (Ludovic) and their team have worked on over the last several months.”

[…]

“One of the only times I will have a bloody mary is after a golf game,” he said. “I can’t — because of some ridiculous rule that says I cannot have a bloody mary because I am at a county golf course. Treat me like an adult. It is not going to keep me playing golf there … By having a deck there, I don’t think we are committing this horrendous thing that is going to lead to some ridiculous amount of outings.”

So the County Board is debating how to pay for some capital improvements to the club house and how the golf course can operate without using tax dollars.

WHY THE HELL DOES THE COUNTY OWN A GOLF COURSE!?!?

In a county that has several golf courses – a couple of them that are world class – why do we need the taxpayers to run one? Sell the dang thing and then we don’t need 26 (yes, 26!) county supervisors debating whether or not they should be able to have a bloody mary after a game of golf at the county course.

If Washington County would actually cut some spending like this, it would be easy to eliminate the county sales tax.

Washington County Says “Hell, No”

This is a bit fascinating to watch. A little background…

In 1998, Washington County passed a temporary sales tax (I think you know where this is going). There were some major capital projects like at the county jail, courthouse, and UWWC, that the county needed done, but they didn’t have the money. So they bamboozled the public into accepting a “temporary” 0.5% sales tax to pay for those projects. By 2006, those capital projects were all done and paid for, but the County Board decided that they liked their new tax. Instead of killing off the tax as promised, they kept it going and redirected it to other things. Now the county sales tax is just another tax that the County Board uses to spend on whatever it wants.

Fast forward to 2017 and several of the county’s municipalities want a slice of that tax. The argument is simple. All residents of the county pay the sales tax so it makes sense to distribute that tax to several levels of government. The City of West Bend already sent a letter to the city earlier this year. Slinger voted to do the same last night. Other cities and villages are considering doing the same.

Last night, the Washington County Board didn’t just say “no.” They said, “hell, no.

“Based on what you are saying, I think we need to be very clear that — not necessarily that we are denying anything, but that we are declining even considering it,” County Administrator Joshua Schoemann said to committee members.

Well, that’s pretty clear. It is a dangerous business to try to get between a politician and a tax.

On the issue itself, I agree with the county, but only because I have a forlorn hope that the county might someday end the sales tax as they promised when they implemented it. That likelihood, however remote, becomes even more remote if other governments get their hands in that pie.

 

Working with Act 10

The Washington County Daily News has an interesting story on the front page today. The story is about how the Jackson Police Department is modifying its recruitment requirements to make it easier to get recruits. The department is having a hard time recruiting candidates and the story says that it is a statewide problem.

In the aggregate, this makes sense. With 3-something percent unemployment in Wisconsin, everyone is having a hard time finding workers. And when it comes to law enforcement, the current legal and cultural climate would make some people shy away from law enforcement. It is a job where you can do everything right for 20 years, but one questionable decision in a high pressure situation can ruin your life. Not to mention the fact that it is a job that requires 24/7 hard work. It is an honorable job, but it is not an easy one.

In any case, the Jackson Police Chief said this:

“This is a statewide problem,” Dolnick said. “Some departments have gotten so desperate that they’re offering lateral benefits to ‘cannibalize’ officers from other agencies. Act 10 reduced benefits, making it harder to compete with jobs in which you’re not required to work holidays, overnight, and weekends, in potentially dangerous situations.”

Dolnick’s attempt to blame Act 10 is off base. It absolutely did not reduce benefits. In fact, it gave local governments much more power over those benefits to increase them or decrease them. If the Village of Jackson has reduced benefits, that’s on them. What Act 10 did do is make it easier for public employees to make lateral moves to other cities. Perhaps this is what Dolnick meant.

In fact, later in the story, another law enforcement leader has a different perspective on Act 10.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is working to hire new deputies and has the option of hiring non-certified candidates and sponsoring them through the Basic Law Enforcement Training, which lasts 720 hours. This is a similar offering to what Dolnick requested last month.

Sheriff Dale Schmidt said, “We’ve continuously had applications for all those positions (deputies, corrections officers and dispatch offers), but we have to be much more careful with the positions, making sure they’re meeting the standards we’re looking for.”

In an effort to remain competitive, Schmidt has worked with the Washington County Board of Supervisors to keep pay and benefits competitive.

“I think they’ve been responsive to that,” Schmidt said. He added that the department has also seen an increase in the hiring of experienced applicants from other agencies in the past few years.

Apparently the Washington County government is using its increased authority under Act 10 to keep pay and benefits competitive, thus disproving the assertion that “Act 10 reduced benefits.” Clearly it did not.

Also note that Sheriff Schmidt noted an increase in applicants from other agencies. This is something that Act 10 intentionally made easier. The fact that there is more of a marketplace for public employees to move to other employers without completely abandoning their seniority and benefits is a good thing – not a bad thing.

Counties Considering Consolidating

Here’s an interesting idea.

County governments in Wisconsin are financially unsustainable and must reinvent themselves to survive, even if that means erasing borders and merging with the county next door, Washington County leaders say in a letter to four of their neighbors.

The County Board’s Executive Committee and County Administrator Joshua Schoemann have invited their counterparts in Ozaukee, Fond du Lac, Dodge and Waukesha counties to discuss everything from sharing services, consolidating departments and even redrawing maps to unite as one.

Any talks would build on existing partnerships. Washington and Ozaukee counties merged their health departments last year and already saved taxpayers $300,000. Waukesha County shares its medical examiner with Washington County.

State law allows consolidation of two or more counties and Washington County’s leaders are willing to consider going down that road in order to resolve fiscal problems caused by declining revenue and increasing expenses, Schoemann said.

It makes a lot of sense to combine many of the departments and functions to reduce costs and increase service. I’m a bit more hesitant about merging the governance. Having a massive county dilutes representation. But that may also increase visibility and accountability. There are certainly numerous examples of much larger counties in this country.

I look forward to the discussion!

City Wants Access to County Sales Tax

Heh. This is another stark reminder of the lies of politicians.

Washington County officials implemented a sales tax a few years ago to fund different initiatives — now municipalities want to access those dollars to fund projects of their own.

Officials from West Bend are collaborating with other municipalities in the area to draft a resolution petitioning county officials for a revenue-sharing agreement to access almost $3 million of the county’s $11.4 million sales tax revenue.

City Administrator Jay Shambeau announced the measure during the June 5 meeting as part of an update to the city’s 10-year financial plan when he alluded to possible alternative revenue streams.

“There are some other options that are potentially out there for the council to consider,” he said. “One is a portion or a tax sharing with the county sales tax. I have begun to have some conversations with the county about that.”

The reporter glosses over it, but one must remember the history here. Washington County implemented a county sales tax several years ago to pay for some specific “critical” capital projects like the new radio system that the Sheriff needed for public safety. The tax was supposed to pay for those capital projects and then go away. As almost always happens, after those projects were long since paid off, the tax is still here. County officials simply kept the tax going and used it to pay for other stuff. It once again proved the maxim that “there’s no such thing as a temporary tax.”

Now the city is looking over at that pile of money extracted from taxpayers and wants a slice. Never leave a pile of money around a politician…

Washington County Board Considers Moving Back to Old Courthouse

I look forward to seeing the results of the study.

Members of the Executive Committee convened a meeting Monday, but instead of gathering at the Washington County Government Center, they chose to assemble at the former Washington County Courthouse as an experiment for organizing future board meetings at the site.

Committee supervisors provided their blessing to evaluate the feasibility of moving the board’s meeting location because the venue does not provide adequate access for the public, especially for those with disabilities since the room does not conform to the American with Disabilities Act.

“It was brought up because of the ADA issues really in the current board room,” Clerk Ashley Reichert said.

It would be cool for the board to meet in such a historic building, but I’m not keen on paying more taxes for “cool.” I do think it is a bit funny that the Washington County Government Center, built a couple of decades ago, is not ADA compliant but the building built in 1889 is.

Route 60 Reliever Route to be Discussed Tuesday

This debate is heating up again.

Washington County Administrator Joshua Shoemann, tells FOX6 News at the request of the Hartford Area Development Cooperation, the county is once again revisiting the possibility of adding a reliever route to Highway 60.

“The county board asked us to take a look at where the best route was. It happened to be right here on Highway K through the unincorporated Town of St. Lawrence,” said Schoemann.

The request was made in 2016, but it’s been brought up time and time again since the 70s. The proposal is to build a new road to ease congestion. That has many worried it could risk the future of area landmarks, like the Little Red Inn restaurant.

“I get asked constantly about this project; there is a lot of concern if the building is going to stay here. It’s very historical to customers and important to them,” said Little Red Inn Manager, Miranda Stewart.

Even more concerned are farmers who fear the project could take away acres of their land.

“It’s a very big deal. There’s no land around, we are close to the city and it’s all developed. We need land and it’s just not around here,” said Curtiss Becker, Becker Dale Farms.

[…]

A listening meeting is happening Tuesday, January 31st at 6:30 p.m. inside Hartford Town Hall, where there will be opportunity for public comment.

The argument is basically this… Hartford’s industrial park and commercial center lies on the west side of town. This required the businesses there, and pass-through traffic, to run their trucks through the middle of Hartford on Highway 60 to get to Interstate 41. This creates noise and congestion in the city and delays and frustration for the drivers. To relieve this, some folks want a reliever route around the north side of town. Essentially, it would be a partial loop with free traffic flow between the interstate and the west side of town.

The downside is two-fold. First, the reliever route would require the purchase and destruction of farmland and homes. Second, the reliever route would be expensive. The State of Wisconsin has already rejected the project, so Washington County taxpayers would foot the bill if the project moves ahead.

Overall, I think the return for this project is exceedingly dubious. Some of the proponents argue that the reliever route will spur economic development. I’m skeptical about that claim. If access to the interstate is the driver for economic development, then there are still plenty of open areas with ready access to I-41 and within a convenient drive from Hartford, Slinger, Jackson, Germantown, and other communities in Washington County. If the County is looking for a place to spur development, an expensive highway project to funnel activity to the west side of Hartford seems like a poor use of taxpayer resources.

County Board Uses Surplus for Employee Bonuses

This is ridiculous.

Supervisors voted to approve a resolution Tuesday that authorizes a transfer from the General Fund to offer a one-time bonus for employees. Language in the original resolution stated the measure as a “retention” bonus, but that was changed to the word “appreciation” because of a motion.

According to the committee report, the measure is an effort to address an area identified in the 2015 Strategic Planning Process named, “Workforce Development/ Employee Morale,” and provides an additional $200 to employees in the form of a gift card with the intent of improving morale among staff.

[…]

The committee report also states the initiative requires a transfer from the General Fund not to exceed $150,000 since the total estimated cost would be $145,000.

First, it continues to grate on me that this sales tax even exists. It was created as a temporary measure years ago for some one-time capital projects and the County Board has refused to end it. But I’ll get off my soap box for that for a minute.

The reason this happened is because the sales tax generated more money than the county budgeted. It’s a surplus. When faced with this extra money that the County Board found in our couch, they had some choices. They could have put it into a contingency fund for unforeseen expenses. They could have lowered the property tax levy by that amount. They could have paid off some county debt.

But no. Instead, they are sending gift cards to employees for “employee morale.” What a waste.

The decision assumes two things. First, it assumes that employee morale is low and needs a boost. What leads them to that assumption? Is turnover higher than usual? Are employees protesting?

Second, it assumes that a one time gift card will actually improve morale. Anyone who has ever managed employees knows that’s crap. A gift card is nice and they will appreciate it, but if there is a systemic morale problem, it is money flushed down the toilet. It will do nothing to improve morale of the employees, but it makes management feel like they are doing something. Good for Supervisor Bassill for nailing it:

“I believe there are some problems. I believe it is 1 percent of the employees. I just think we have whiners. Even though the whiners are good workers, the problem is nothing is good enough for them.”

– Michael Bassill

The employees who are generally satisfied will appreciate the gift card, but it won’t change anything. The employees who are dissatisfied will appreciate the gift card, but it won’t change anything for them either.

Wasted.

Money.

Trump Gains Votes in Washington County

From the Washington County Insider.

Dec. 6, 2016 – In less than a week poll workers across Washington County, under the guidance of County Clerk Brenda Jaszewski, have successfully recounted the ballots from the 2016 presidential election.

Their findings showed President-Elect Donald Trump gained 11 votes and Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton lost 3 votes.

Washington County Attorney is OOO

Something strange is going on in Washington County government. The accidental loss of money, the odd development of a homeless shelter, and now this from the Washington County Insider. Is there something in the water?

Oct. 20, 2016 – West Bend, WI – Washington County attorney Kimberly A. Nass is not in the office. When questioned about her current status County Board Chairman Rick Gundrum refused comment as did County administrator Joshua Schoemann.
Washington County Sheriff Dale Schmidt confirmed he was not conducting any criminal investigation on Nass.
Nass, 49, started with the county in the early 1990s as an assistant to Washington County Judge Patrick Faragher.
The job of the county attorney according to the county website is “provides legal advice to county board, it’s committees and county departments; drafts and reviews ordinances and resolutions for county board action; advises the county board with respect to parliamentary procedures; prosecutes mental commitment cases, guardianship, protective placement/services cases, termination of parental rights cases and shoreland, wetland, floodplain and sanitary code violations; attends county committee meetings and other county-related meetings; reviews contracts in which the county is a party and commences legal proceedings to collect on outstanding accounts due the county.”
There was no comment on when Nass would return.
Attempts have been made to contact Nass.  This is the response received to the email.
I am out of the office.  Please contact the County Attorney’s Office at 262-335-4374.

Washington County Board to hold No Confidence Vote for County Treasurer

It’s good to see some accountability. It doesn’t appear that there was any malice involved, but poor management of the people’s money requires sanction of some sort. Given that she is an elected official, there’s not much that the board can do to her.

Oct. 18, 2016 – West Bend, WI – During the next Washington County Board meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 25, a resolution vote of ‘No Confidence’ in County Treasurer Jane Merten will be brought before Supervisors.

The resolution stems from a pair of wire transfers that occurred June 1, 2016 when Merten sent two separate wire transfers to fraudulent accounts. The total was $87,760, although the Washington County Sheriff said half of that never went through.

As a result $32,163.76 was returned to Washington County on Sept. 15, 2016.

Merten is up for reelection and her name is on the Nov. 8 ballot. She is running uncontested.

District 21 Supervisor Donald Kriefall initiated the resolution for a ‘no confidence’ vote. His comments are below.

“As an elected official we’re limited in what we can do in our scope of authority over another elected official. If it would have been an administrator or county employee there would have been disciplinary action taken, up and including termination.”

Fees Proposed for Washington County Parks

I admit, I’m a little torn on this.

The Washington County Board is going to be considering a new entrance fee for the county park system.

Jay Shambeau, Washington County Planning and Parks Administrator, said the entrance fee is only in the discussion phase. He said the fee is being proposed as part of the county’s priority based budgeting. “We need to either stop funding the parks or raise revenue in another manner,” Shambeau said.

Bullet points on proposed entrance fee:

-“The fee would be similar to the state park sticker where you purchase a daily or annual entrance-fee sticker and then put it in your window,” said Shambeau.

-The proposed rate is $5 for daily park admittance or $25 for an annual sticker to get in the parks.

-Waukesha County has already enacted a similar plan to help off-set the cost of maintaining the parks. Its fee is $4 a day or $22 for an annual pass. Shambeau said Waukesha County is already in discussions to raise its fee.

On the one hand, I’m all for the fee. I love the county parks and would certainly be one of those people buying the yearly pass. I also don’t have a problem with people paying for what they use.

But what I don’t like to see is a government implementing fees without a corresponding decrease in taxes. If the County wants to shift from paying for more stuff with fees in order to decrease the general tax burden, then absolutely. If the County wants to implement fees as a way to spend more money without increasing the general tax burden, then no thank you.

Oh, and get rid of that dang county sales tax that was supposed to be “temporary.”

New County Clerk

Congrats to Washington County’s newest County Clerk, Ashley Reichert!

There was only one local race in Washington County in this Partisan Primary Election as Ashley Reichert, Braedy Helmbrecht and Aggie Pruner vyed to be the next county clerk.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting Reichert has secured the post.

Primary Election Tomorrow

There is a partisan primary election tomorrow. There are a few interesting races around the state, but there’s only one contested race on my ballot tomorrow. Three candidates are vying to be the Republican candidate for Washington County Clerk. Since there aren’t any Democrats running, the winner of the primary will be the new clerk.

There are three candidates running. Here’s a brief description from the Washington County Insider:

IMG_6330

Aggie Pruner (AP) – 16 years experience as current Town Clerk for the Town of Barton. Experience as town clerk makes me credible candidate.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_6325Ashley Reichert (AR) – mother of 3 and married six years. Husband is a veteran and they are supporters of Stars & Stripes Honor Flight. Work for county for 3 years and one year for Sheriff’s office. Started social media 6 months ago. Work with county administrator and other County Board Supervisors. I’d be a strong candidate for County Clerk.

 

 

 

 

IMG_6321

Braedy Helmbrecht (BH) – Worked with the county for 18 years. Detail oriented. Believe in raising a family and family values and like to work with the community

 

 

 

 

 

You can also read their answers to questions at the same link.

I don’t have anything against any of the candidates. They all seem like decent people. Given the fact that the clerk position is mostly a position responsible for administering laws and not making them, I lean toward someone with experience. This is especially true since our election laws have been evolving and we need a steady hand during elections to make sure Washington County doesn’t become the subject of election night ridicule like Waukesha County.

For those reasons, I’ll be voting for Aggie Pruner. And, I mean… c’mon… “Aggie?” How could I not vote for her?

County Clerk Candidates

There are three candidates for Washington County Clerk on the ballot. All three of them are running as Republicans and the primary election is August 9th. Since there aren’t any Democrats running, the primary will decide the election. All three of the participated in a candidate forum hosted by Common Sense Citizens of Washington County. The Washington County Insider was there and has the coverage.

Check it out and vote!

Washington County Falls Victim to Scam

What the…?

On June 16, 2016, a wire transfer was authorized in the amount of $87,760 to criminal bank accounts.  Upon identifying the error, County finance staff notified the Sheriff’s Department to begin an investigation.  In cooperation with the Sheriff’s Department, County Administration is taking active steps to mitigate the financial loss for Washington County and educate against e-mail phishing scams.

“We wanted to bring this information to the taxpayer’s attention as soon as possible and exhibit complete transparency regarding this breach.  As soon as we are able, we will provide full details of the investigation and of our efforts to ensure those responsible are held accountable,” said Joshua Schoemann, Washington County Administrator.  “It is very unfortunate that we fell victim to this scam.”

That amount of money should never be transferred without some serious oversight. Heads better roll for this screw up.

Guest Column: “Breaking through Bureaucracy”

Here’s a guest column from Joshua Schoemann, the Washington County County Administrator.

If you’ve had time to see local newspaper headlines lately, or you’ve thumbed through the newsfeed of your favorite social media app, you may be inclined to be a bit pessimistic.  Do not be dismayed my friends, there is plenty to be optimistic about here in Washington County!

While doing some work this past week in preparation for a visit by Governor Walker, we took a long overdue tour of the building affectionately referred to as the “Old Courthouse.”  Many of you may know this building as the current home of the Washington County Historical Society.  Others may recall the building from days gone by as the place where you picked up your marriage certificate, birth certificate or conducted other county business.  However, if you see this building today, one can hardly pass through the walls of the gorgeous relic and not feel the history surround you.

In admiring the interior of the building during my visit that day I couldn’t help but wonder what those who came before us would think if they could see us now.  I could almost hear them saying, “Look how far you’ve come! This community (our County) has so much going for it. What was once a small rural outpost between Milwaukee and Fond du Lac is now a beautiful rural suburban haven, close enough for commerce and culture yet far enough for peace and tranquility. You have so much opportunity!”

As I stepped out of that beautiful building and sat down to write this month’s column I did so with a new found energy and optimism.  This community is in fact extremely blessed.  The opportunities for innovation and improvement are almost endless.  We have so incredibly much to offer to ourselves and those who one day will call Washington County home.  We have fantastic schools, just take a look at our national rankings, and our state test scores.  We have a wonderful network of nonprofits supporting a quality of life for all citizens of our County.  We have terrific natural resources.  Where else can you go where you live 30 minutes from the hustle and bustle of the big city, and yet are surrounded by beautiful woods, marshes and farm country? We have a superb business community with incredibly generous corporate citizens.

Picture for yourself the beauty of the Romanesque Revival architecture of our “Old Courthouse”.  Now consider, if you will, what it must have took to build that wonderful structure back in the late 1880’s.  I can tell you this, it wasn’t done by any one person alone.  The only way such an amazing building was erected at that time in history was by the collective effort of hundreds of people dedicated to making their community one beautiful piece of Wisconsin.

We have so incredibly much going for us in Washington County.  Now we need to take the collective work of the hundreds of thousands of us who call this place home to build whatever the next “old courthouse” is going to be.  In the words of John F. Kennedy, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

County Board Debates Golf Course

This is a no brainer. There is not reason that taxpayers should own and run a golf course. Even if it might start to turn a profit, it’s not worth having on the books as a liability if it doesn’t turn a profit. Furthermore, the county government has no business running a business in direct competition of private businesses in the county.

Sell it. Move on.

“The arguments against it are very principled,” Schoemann said. “Government should not be in the business because the sport can independently make it on its own. On the other side of the coin now though, we have just paid off, last month, the final debt payments on the course, and now we believe the course will create some profit.”

Schoemann said the Washington County Golf Course is one of the highestrated courses in the area. It first opened in 1997, but the initiative started in 1991 thanks to contributions from several private donors, including Walter Malzahn of West Bend.

Every Vote Counts

In yet another example of how every vote counts – especially in those local elections.

In the Feb. 16 primary for the District 22 seat on the County Board, Zoulek finished tied for second with incumbent Supervisor Dennis Myers with 234 votes. But Canvass Board meetings in Richfield and Germantown on Monday produced one more vote from an absentee ballot for Zoulek, breaking the second-place tie. The Washington County Board of Canvassers reviewed the ballots and certified the results during their meeting Tuesday morning.

First-place finisher Rock Brandner also received one more vote through an absentee ballot filed in Richfield, giving him a final total of 438. Dale Peterson finished last with 74 votes.

Washington County Votes for Tax Decrease

This is a positive thing to wake up to today.

It was a struggle, but after a more than a two-and-a-half hour debate Washington County supervisors Thursday night finally approved the budget for 2016 that includes another tax cut.

Several amendments were offered during the lengthy meeting at the county courthouse, but a final budget was approved that calls for the mill rate to decline nine cents from about $2.69 per thousand in 2015 to about $2.60 per thousand in 2016. The rate change means that for a home with the median value of about $226,000 the average county-wide tax on the home would be $589 — a $21 reduction from 2015 when the same home would have paid $610 to Washington County.

In a year when county officials could have increased tax revenue with little impact on taxpayers to offset increases in the cost of doing business, the 2016 budget reduces the county’s tax levy by $250,000.

The total tax levy for 2016 will be about $35,176,000.