Tag Archives: Washington County

What the Heck is a “Negative Savings”?

Heh

WEST BEND — After 12 months of collecting data from employees and their families regarding the onsite health clinic, officials have received information they hope to use to mitigate rising health care costs for their workforce.

Sara Stiefvater, the client operations manager, along with Regional Medical Director Dennis Schultz, both from Quad Medical, presented results of the operations for the onsite health clinic Monday to members of the Common Council.

[…]

She also provided information regarding the clinic’s profitability when combined with Washington County since the clinic is shared between their employees.

In the aggregate, officials experienced a negative savings for the first year by slightly more than $22,000. The total estimated savings was about $332,000 while the expenses, which includes staff as well as the payment to the vendor for operating the clinic, was about $355,000.

That’s the oddest way to say that… “experienced a negative savings” of $22,000. In the real world, we would day that it “costs” $22,000. This is significant because the whole point of the county and city providing a clinic is to bring down the overall costs. Otherwise, it’s just an additional benefit to government employees.

The impact the clinic will have for the city and county, at least in terms of savings and cost, is significant because that is the primary reason that administrators and leaders established one.

The clinic opened during the summer, marking the completion of a project that required about two years inthe hopes of slowing the increasing rate associated with health care costs.

“Over the course of three years, the projection is about $1 million (saved),” Human Resources Director Todd Scott said during a July 2017 interview. “It is really going to be based on participation. How many people use the clinic and what type of services. That is where the savings is going to come from.”

If the goal is to save $1 million in three years, then the clinic needs to save $511,000 each of the next two years. I don’t see that happening.

That being said, I would consider the clinic a success if it saves some decent amount each year. For example, if it saves the taxpayers $50,000 per year and provides a better healthcare alternative to employees, then it’s a net benefit worth keeping. If it is just going to be another perk for employees that costs taxpayers even more, then it fails to meet its stated justification and should be shut down.

Let’s give it another year and see how it goes.

Conflict in Washington County

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefitting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

When the Washington County Board supervisor for District 11 moved away a few months ago, the County Board appointed a replacement, William Blanchard, to serve out the rest of the term. On Oct. 3, Blanchard submitted his resignation “under duress” due to an insurmountable conflict of interest.

At issue is the fact that Blanchard’s daughter receives significant care from various county departments. Upon investigation, county officials determined that because so many departments were involved, the only way to avoid the potential conflict of interest was for the county to outsource his daughter’s care to another county, at significant expense, or for Blanchard to resign.

The Washington County Ethics Board issued an opinion that although there was no “wrongdoing or ethical violation … there is a conflict of interest,” and “Blanchard should resign.” To that end, County Board Chairman Don Kriefall, County Administrator Josh Schoemann and County Attorney Brad Stern told Blanchard that he needed to resign.

This raises all kinds of questions. What constitutes a conflict of interest? According to the county’s code of ethics, a conflict of interest results from an official’s “action or failure to act in the discharge of his or her official duties which could reasonably be expected to produce or assist in producing a substantial economic or personal benefit.”

In this case, the potential conflict of interest exists if, and only if, Blanchard uses his office or votes on issues related to services that his daughter receives. The simple solution, which Blanchard offered to do, is for him to recuse himself from such votes. This is common and routine for elected officials. The Washington County Board, like every elected board, is riddled with conflicts. Supervisors and their families work for the county, use county services, serve on municipal governments, work in businesses that do work with the county, etc. It is impossible to have an elected county government full of citizens who do not actually live in the county.

For Blanchard, county officials insisted that they would need to outsource services for his daughter to avoid a potential conflict. Why? Again, the simple and cheap solution is for Blanchard to recuse himself if there is a conflict of interest. Outsourcing services to another county just to avoid a potential conflict of interest with one supervisor is an expensive overreaction. It is not the county’s duty to avoid the conflict. It is the supervisor’s. If the supervisor commits an ethical offense related to a conflict of interest, then the County Board can take action.

What is concerning about this is that county officials constructed an unreasonable standard to force an elected official out of office. Blanchard was faced with either resigning or being responsible for forcing the taxpayers to pay thousands of dollars of additional costs to care for his daughter. He was forced into this decision even though the simple act of recusing himself from relevant votes would have adequately sufficed to avoid a potential breach of ethics.

The downside of Blanchard’s potential conflict of interest is that he may have to skip a lot of votes. This would bring into question whether or not he is adequately representing the citizens of his district. But that decision is not for the county administrator, county attorney or County Board chairman to decide. That decision is up to the voters of District 11.

In a representative government, elected officials only have one boss — the people. Barring criminal corruption in office, which would justify removal from office, it is up to the people to decide who they want to represent them. If Blanchard recuses himself from a lot of votes, it is up to the people to decide whether that is good enough or not. And frankly, given that Washington County has a ridiculously large board with 26 supervisors, and it is exceedingly rare for any vote to come down to a single supervisor’s vote, it is unlikely that Blanchard’s vote would ever result in a “substantial economic or personal benefit.”

Washington County’s leadership undermined the tenets of representative government when they forced Blanchard to resign. It wasn’t their call. It should have been left for the voters to decide.

Conflict in Washington County

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today! Go pick up a copy. Here’s a taste.

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefiting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

Blanchard Explains

Even more at the Washington County Insider. If this is the case, it’s an egregious abuse of power to force a board member out. Why? The conflict of interest issue doesn’t make any sense. There must be more to the story.

I am writing to you today to notify you that I will be, under duress, submitting a letter of resignation tomorrow as District 11 County Board Supervisor.  I will be resigning because my mentally ill daughter is receiving services through Washington County Social Services (tentatively through January 2019).  Due to my place on the County Board, her services would have to be outsourced to another county and would cause Washington County to incur additional costs of between $4,000 & $20,000.  I would have been willing to forego my salary to cover the additional expenses but wasn’t given that opportunity.

I would like to highlight that there are currently no ethics breaches or perceptions of breaches.  The County Attorney has even written that he does not allege that I “am in breach of the Code of Ethics… or that you are not an ethical person or a man of integrity”.

Under duress, I was forced to request a determination from the Ethics Board which found “not based on any wrongdoing or ethical violation” that there was a conflict of interest and recommended that I resign from the County Board.

I would like to state for the record that this sets a dangerous precedent as any County Board Supervisor could have a conflict of interest and be forced to resign if any member of his or her family, including extended family receives any service from the county, including but not limited to:

– Long-term care assessment

– Short-term care coordination

– Access to benefits specialists

– Dementia care-giver support

– Senior Dining and home delivered meals

– Child support

– Victim/Witness support services

– AODA

– Veterans Services

I am truly dismayed and disheartened at the treatment I have received throughout this process.  Rather than look for, or accept, alternative solutions, I have been coerced, threatened and intimidated into this course of action.

I have enjoyed getting to meet all of you and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

Thank you,

William Blanchard

County Supervisor Fires Back with Ethics Complaint

More from former Supervisor Blanchard at the Washington County Insider

Having submitted my resignation, I will address this as a private citizen of Washington County. I have stated before that I am willing to discuss the issue openly and honestly with anyone interested. In a nutshell, I was Kavanaugh’d. I have not done anything wrong, nor have I, unlike Kavanaugh, been accused of doing anything wrong or unethical. If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to reach out to me.

I would like to notify you that I will be submitting ethics complaints against Chairman Kriefall and Administrator Schoemann. On a phone conversation they suggested (by suggested I mean pushed, forced, threatened) that I resign and then lie to my constituents and tell them that I have family issues and don’t have time to fulfill my County Board requirements. I replied by stating that the Air Force has three core values: Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in all we do. While those may be a punchline to some, those are the values by which I try to live my life. I will be open and honest with my constituents. At that point they tried to backpedal but the unethical suggestion had already knowingly been made.

And from the County Administrator

I have received multiple communications from several Supervisors about the email you received from Supervisor Blanchard today announcing his intent to resign as a County Board Supervisor. As with all Board communication I highly advise you to refrain from any discussion amongst yourselves regarding this matter, including any ‘Reply’ or ‘Reply All’ to the original email from Supervisor Blanchard. I only give this advice as the matter may relate to the Open Meetings Law, as it may or may not be discussed by the County Board and as it has been considered by the Ethics Committee.

Please be advised this matter is of a sensitive nature, and thus requires the County’s strictest diligence. While Supervisor Blanchard is certainly allowed to share, as he did, any and all detail he feels appropriate, the County must follow all legal protocols within the ethics realm, as well as within the realm of treating clients and navigating through the court system with clients (if there were to be any)


Something stinks to high heaven here. I have spoken with Blanchard and reached out to County Administrator Shoemann, who has not yet responded. More to come…

County Supervisor Resigns After being Harassed

Curious.

I was thrilled when I learned that the County Board Supervisor position for District 11 was open and even more thrilled when I was appointed to that position in August.

I am devastated that I am now forced, under duress, to resign from my position as Washington County Board Supervisor for District 11.  Over the past few weeks, I have been subjected to harassing calls and threats to resign or else… Why am I being forced to resign?

NOT because I have done anything wrong or committed any ethics violation but, rather, because my mentally ill daughter is receiving services from Washington County.

Therefore, with a heavy heart, I submit this letter as my resignation from my position as Washington County Board Supervisor for District 11.

 

William Blanchard

Strong Turnout in Washington County

Way to go, Washington County!

turnout

76% of the voters in this county are Republicans. That tells us that the fears of apathy in the GOP base may be a little overstated.

Washington County Chair Responds to Sheriff

Now Don Kriefall, Washington County Board Chair, responds to Sheriff Schmidt’s column from the other day. This is an important discussion for the future of Washington County. Go read the whole thing on the Washington County Insider.

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.

“an undisciplined quest for regionalization and centralized power”

In response to Sheriff Schmidt’s op ed yesterday, Steve Gonwa wrote a very interesting response over at the Washington County Insider. Go read the whole thing, but here’s a bit.

From my experience within Washington County, what is happening is accurately described by Sheriff Schmidt. What is apparently occurring is an undisciplined quest for regionalization and centralized power in county government without regard for the impact such action would have on its citizens.  I find it disturbing that an environment has been created in Washington County government  whereby such grandiose and misguided concepts are now not only embedded in the thinking of its top leaders, but encouraged by the administration to the point of folly.

It is not surprising that this is the environment created by the County Administrator Josh Schoeman and members of the Executive Committee.  Make no mistake, changes made to the County Board in recent years under Mr. Schoeman have systematically stripped the board of most of their decision-making powers and empowered the governance of the county to Mr. Schoeman, the County Board Chair and the handful of supervisors on the Executive Committee. Past County Boards in my opinion mistakenly allowed this to happen, as we are now seeing the depth of the problems created by these changes.

I support consolidation of services when it can be accomplished in a responsible and fiscally prudent manner, and when the overriding goal remains the provision of efficient services to the community. But what started as reasoned attempts at consolidating some specific county services with adjacent counties has clearly morphed into something far more reaching and potentially irresponsible.  Mr. Schoeman and the county have, with some success, consolidated a Health Department and a Medical Examiner Office with Ozaukee County and Waukesha County, respectively.  Perhaps less than 50 employees were affected by these consolidations ( the county floated the concept of a combined Highway Department with Ozaukee County and it proved to be too difficult to even get beyond a basic discussion ). To think that county leadership now believes it has the knowledge, experience and capability to pursue multi-county consolidations of public safety services involving hundreds of employees, millions of dollars in resources and a vast array of critical services shows a serious lack of insight and common sense. I, for one, have no interest in living in the consolidated world of Joshington County.

 

Washington County Sheriff Schmidt Weighs In

Washington County Sheriff Dale Schmidt wrote an important column for the Washington County Insider. Follow the link to read the whole thing, but the Sheriff brings up a lot of great points, and great concerns, about the movement to consolidate in Washington County.

A few years ago, Administrator Schoeman asked me if I thought those municipalities could be now convinced to combine their dispatch centers with the Sheriffs Center.  My answer was no.  He then suggested that if operation of the Communications Center and Radio System was transferred from the Sheriff to the Administrator (Mr. Schoeman) the municipalities would agree because his wasn’t a “political” position.

In my opinion, the County Administrator has become the most political position in Washington County government.  This opinion is supported by Mr. Schoeman’s current plan to add a second full time Assistant Administrator who will serve as a lobbyist and communicator to other government entities.  Mr. Schoeman and the Executive Committee’s focus is not on delivering necessary services to the public, but influencing (politicize) all areas of government into regionalizing.  Having a county-wide Communications Center and Radio System operated by the Administrator would politicize it.  Mr. Kriefall stated he would incentivize the municipalities with sales tax money.  This is just the beginning of public safety being steered by politics instead of what is in the best interest of the community.

Currently, and for at least the past 30 years, no single government position in Washington County is more involved in all areas of public safety than the Sheriff.  It does not mean the Sheriff controls public safety, but he has a constitutional duty to ensure it is provided.  The Sheriff is accountable to the people directly; not to mayors, administrators or elected boards.

The above example shows why maintaining jurisdictions and elected offices are important to government accountability.  The separation of authority and responsibility is important.  It may cost more to have multiple units of government, but without them you will have no accountability to the people.  Regional governments are only one step away from a single authoritarian state government.

Over the past few years, I have discussed with both candidates for Sheriff the above stated ideas and how they relate to the Sheriff’s authority and responsibility for public safety.  I believe both agree the Sheriff should remain in charge of the county Communication Center and Radio System and that combining with another county would be a mistake.  I also believe that both candidates agree that municipalities would have to join the county Communication Center voluntarily and if they did, that the Sheriff should remain in charge for it to be successful.

Washington County Votes to Keep State Tax Limits

Good to see!

exec

Wisconsin Democrats propose socialist paradise

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Get out and vote today, but then we need to start thinking about November. Here you go:

With the spate of bipartisan legislation making it to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk at the sunset of this legislative session, one might have been lulled into thinking that Wisconsin’s Democrats had finally moderated and moved toward the center of the ideological spectrum. As if to disabuse the electorate of any such notion, some Assembly Democrats have introduced a sweeping amendment to the Wisconsin state constitution that reads like a Madison socialist manifesto.

The amendment does not stand any chance of actually passing. In order to amend the Wisconsin Constitution, both houses in two successive legislatures must pass the same amendment and then it must pass a statewide vote. It is very difficult to amend the state constitution, but it is particularly hard for the minority party in the legislature to do it. But that isn’t the point of what the Democrats are doing.

Released at the end of the legislative session on the eve of an election season where Democrats are hoping to ride a blue wave to electoral majorities, the amendment is meant to lay down an ideological marker of where the Democrats would like to take Wisconsin if the voters are foolish enough to hand them power.

The lengthy amendment contains 18 provisions that address everything from abortion to voting rights. Let us look at a few of the more wacky ideas that Democrats would like to foist on the state:

 Democrats would attempt to undermine the Second Amendment by allowing local ordinances to supersede federal and state law when it comes to how citizens own, use and carry firearms.

 Democrats would strike the word “resident” from the definition of an eligible voter and only require a person to live in a ward for 10 days before being permitted to vote. This would open the door to allow Democrats to flood key districts with temporary voters in order to win elections.

 Democrats would allow felons who are on probation or parole to vote.

 Democrats would reinstate the notoriously corrupt Government Accountability Board that was complicit in persecuting conservative people and groups. Not only that, but they would give the GAB even more power by putting it in control of drawing district lines. The GAB was so successful in helping Democrats before it was disbanded that they assume that it will tilt legislative maps in their favor too.

 Democrats would prohibit religious schools from receiving public funds. This would effectively kill school choice in Wisconsin since the majority of choice schools are highly-successful Catholic, Lutheran and other religious school systems.

 Democrats would turn back the clock in favor of unions by declaring a right to collective bargaining. This would negate Act 10, right to work legislation and reinstate the expensive prevailing wage laws.

 Democrats would enable the DNR to be an independent leftist attack dog by insulating it from the voters. They would do this by putting the superintendent of public instruction — historically a Democratic stronghold — representation in the DNR and by allowing a Natural Resources Board to choose the DNR secretary. Democrats believe in insulating their favorite government institutions from electoral scrutiny.

 Democrats would also have the superintendent of public instruction set the budget for public school funding. It is difficult to even understand how this would work since the Legislature holds the power of the purse, but Wisconsin’s Democrats are unbothered by such things.

The proposals go on, but the message is clear: Democrats really do think that Wisconsin would be better off if it adopted San Francisco’s values. They really would mount a full scale assault on our civil rights if they manage to regain control of the government again.

This constitutional amendment is not going to pass, but it is a clear statement of the kind of Wisconsin that Wisconsin’s Democrats would create if given the chance. Many of these ideas do not need a constitutional amendment in order to become reality. Most of them could be done with simple changes in the law. If Wisconsinites are enjoying record employment, a booming economy, budget surpluses, tax cuts and the expansion of civil rights, they are going to have to get to the polls in November and make their voices heard.

 

Promise to Look Into It… Have Three of My Best Guys Working On It…

Well, this is about the most milquetoast promise ever. I’ll bet you a perpetual sales tax that he comes to the conclusion that getting rid of the sales tax would not be “consistent with our values.” From the email…

As I have met with neighbors in District 3 over the past few months, one question keeps coming up again and again.  Can we please get rid of the sales tax?

The simple answer is that if we never look at it, we for sure will never be able to do it, so let’s look at it.

My Promise

To be clear, I am not promising an end to the sales tax.  What I am promising is that I will request that our County Administrator and County Board chairman work in 2018 to develop at least 4 different plans for how we could get rid of the sales tax.  I am going to request that at least 3 plans include no new taxes or tax trading, since I want at least 3 plans that are entirely based off of budget cuts and program cuts.  This will give us the ability to see if there is any viable way to end the county sales tax while remain consistent with our values.

Once we have these plans, we can look at whether the cost would be too much for us to bear, or whether it might be possible and achievable to responsibly eliminate the sales tax.  While my gut tells me that the program cuts most likely will have a cost that does not match our values, we won’t really know for sure unless we push ourselves to explore what may be possible.

And who knows, maybe we’ll surprise ourselves and find a responsible way to eliminate the sales tax without compromising our values.  One thing is for sure, if we never look then we will always have the sales tax, so let’s at least look.

Background Info

The sales tax was put in place long before I was elected.  The community is right to feel disillusionment about the sales tax, since it was originally presented as a temporary tax to provide property tax relief and fund capital improvements.  When the sales tax came up for renewal in 2016, there was no plan for how we could eliminate it, so it would create a massive disruption to the County’s various programs.  I felt like I had no choice but to vote to renew it.

For a long time I have just accepted the common talking point that we only have 2 options for eliminating it:

1)      Replacing it with a different tax.  Sure, we could easily eliminate the sales tax by putting in a different tax, but what does that solve?  Really, all that does is trade one tax for another, what I call tax-trading.  Tax-trading is when one tax is eliminated by replacing it with a different tax, such as a property tax increase, a wheel tax, or another new tax.

2)      Massive program cuts that don’t match our values.  The option to do massive program cuts would significantly hinder the county’s ability to deliver on many of the things it currently does.  Those services include the Sheriff’s department, Samaritan, maintaining the County Highways, child protective services, and any of the other services the County provides.  Does that really match our values?

Recently I’ve reached a bit of a turning point on the issue.  Instead of sticking with what I think, I’ve decided that it is time to explore what might be possible, and to see what the impact to County programs would be.  When the sales tax comes up for renewal in 2021, I don’t want to be making a decision based on what I think, I want to make a decision based upon what we have studied and what we know.  And if there is any chance of ending the County sales tax, we would need to start working on that now.

That’s why I am promising is that I will request that our County Administrator and County Board chairman work in 2018 to develop at least 4 different plans for how we could get rid of the sales tax.  I am going to request that at least 3 plans include no new taxes or tax trading, since I want at least 3 plans that are entirely based off of budget cuts and program cuts.

 

Remember to

re-elect Christopher Bossert

as your County Board Supervisor on April 3.

 

#justfixit in Washington County

This is certainly better than the message we’re getting from state lawmakers.

[West Bend, Wisc…] Washington County thinks it can fund all its highway improvements over the next 32 years without an increase in the gas tax or raising other taxes and fees. The plan is simple: make transportation infrastructure a top priority in its budget.

That is the cornerstone of the county’s 2050 Transportation Network Sustainability Plan, which officials are promoting through the #JustFixIt campaign.

Rather than just complain about the amount of  federal or state government funding for local roads, the county is proactively moving forward “to achieve a financially sustainable transportation network for Washington County.”

“Washington County is leading the way to #JustFixIt by putting forth a plan which would 100% fund the maintenance, resurfacing and reconstruction of all county highways for the next three decades,” said County Administrator Joshua Schoemann. “I believe this plan will serve as a model across the State, further demonstrating how setting priorities can result in solutions to maximize the use of every taxpayer dollar we receive and meeting the expectations for essential government services.”

[…]

Washington County wouldn’t be the only county to figure out how to fund road repairs without a tax hike. Marquette County has managed to maintain the best roads in the state through prioritization just within its highway budget. That’s resulted in 99 percent of Marquette’s county highways being in fair or better condition. Incredibly, the county receives almost the smallest amount in state aid of any Wisconsin 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.