Tag Archives: Washington County

Washington County Board to Vote on Pay for County Executive

Wow. Tip o’ the hat to the Washington County Insider. There is no reason on earth that the Washington County Executive should make more than Milwaukee’s CE, Waukesha’s CE, or the governor.

A draft of the resolution shows the proposed salary starting at $140,000 and then increasing annually to $142,800, $145,656 and in the fourth year $148,569.

A record check shows the prospective pay for the newly elected Washington County Executive would be more than any elected county executive in the state of Wisconsin.

Dane County –  $134,218

Milwaukee County – $129,000

Waukesha County – $108,826

Fond du Lac County – $108,100

Winnebago County – $115,800

Brown County – $98,046

The Governor of Wisconsin – $146,786

One note, when supervisors voted Sept. 11, 2019 in favor of an elected county executive, the supervisors knowingly violated the terms of the contract signed with Washington County Administrator Josh Schoemann. A clause in his contract indicates the county will have to pay Schoemann $130,000 because of a violation of the original terms of agreement.

Washington County Board to Vote on POWTS Fee

Just say no.

WEST BEND — While it may just be procedural, the Washington County Board this week will look once more at $11 special assessments for properties with private on-site wastewater treatment systems.

Private treatment systems, POWTS, are well and septic systems used by properties that are not hooked up to municipal water and sewer systems. According to county information, there are an estimated 20,313 properties in Washington County that have a POWTS.

Throughout the summer this year, the county considered implementing the $11 special assessment to help balance the budget. After several months of consideration, County Administrator Joshua Schoemann recommended the county not implement the fee, after high amounts of public feedback against the assessment.

“I will be recommending that the County Board vote no … Simply put, an $11 fee is not worth tearing apart Washington County,” Schoemann said in August.

The County Board will be looking at the matter once more on Wednesday, during its regular meeting at 6 p.m.

Schoemann Runs for Washington County Executive

As expected

WEST BEND — Washington County Administrator Joshua Schoemann on Tuesday became the first person to file papers for the newly-created position of county executive, in effect asking voters to elect him to a job he has held for six years.

The County Board voted last month to eliminate the administrator form of government and moved to an elected one. It was the second vote the County Board took on the matter — the first one failed in June.

Washington County to have an elected executive

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

After much debate and a second vote by the County Board, Washington County will have a county executive. The structural change in government offers the citizens of Washington County an opportunity to reset the direction of the county for years to come.

The vote by the County Board last week to change the county’s form of government from a county administrator to a county executive came after the same board rejected the idea in June. Washington County has long had a form of government where the executive function is delegated to a hired administrator by the County Board. The county administrator is unelected and responsible to the County Board that hired him or her.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a county administrator form of government. In it, the elected County Board exercises both the legislative and executive functions of government with the executive functions being completed by a hired employee. This form of government ensures that the executive function will be completed by a competent executive, but all of the power is retained by the County Board.

The choice by the County Board to enact a county executive form of government represents a distinct ceding of power from the legislative branch of government to the executive branch of government. An elected county executive has to power to hire and fire department heads and veto County Board actions. Perhaps most important of all, an elected county executive is responsible to the voters, not the County Board. The County Board will no longer be able to fire a recalcitrant executive. In our county’s new form of government, the executive branch will truly be an independent, coequal branch of government.

The two things that a county executive form of government provides are accountability and direction. In our current county administrator form of government, accountability is diffused and it is difficult for citizens to hold their county government responsible. For example, if a county citizen is upset with a pockmarked county road, or the fee for county parks, or county transit, what can he do?

He can complain to the relevant county officials, but they are all ultimately responsible to the County Board. A citizen can complain to his or her County Board supervisor, but no single supervisor can enact change. It would take a citizen, or a coalition of citizens, complaining and getting 14 individual County Board supervisors to support making a change. If those supervisors will not act, it would take finding 14 people of like mind to run for office and win in order to change the makeup of the County Board. Ultimately, the county administrator form of government insulates the county bureaucracy from accountability.

As we see in other counties that already have an elected county executive who is responsible to the voters, having a single executive allows the citizens to hold that executive accountable if he underperforms or otherwise misbehaves. The county executive is not wholly responsible for policy, but he or she is responsible for the fair and quality execution of that policy. That kind of accountability has a ripple effect through any large organization.

The second thing that an elected county executive provides is the opportunity to establish a vision for the county. Washington County is in transition. While still largely rural with important rural interests, the county is becoming increasingly urban with important commercial and residential interests. What will the Washington County of 2025, 2030, or 2050 look like? With an interstate, land to build, airports, and a fantastic workforce, will Washington County aggressively compete for the economic growth being spurred in the rest of southeast Wisconsin? Or will we prefer to leverage the county’s idyllic natural beauty to attract commuters and nature enthusiasts? Or something in between? What is the right mix and balance?

These are the things that a county executive will help define and give the voters the opportunity to choose the direction they want. And, more importantly, if a county executive takes the county down a path that the voters do not want, it only takes a single election to change direction.

As candidates for county executive step forward to ask for our votes over the next few months, I welcome an array of competing visions for the future of our county so that we, the voters, may debate and decide the future direction of Washington County.

Washington County to have an elected executive

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. This week it’s actually about Washington County. Pick up a copy!

After much debate and a second vote by the County Board, Washington County will have a county executive. The structural change in government offers the citizens of Washington County an opportunity to reset the direction of the county for years to come.

[…]

The second thing that an elected county executive provides is the opportunity to establish a vision for the county. Washington County is in transition. While still largely rural with important rural interests, the county is becoming increasingly urban with important commercial and residential interests. What will the Washington County of 2025, 2030, or 2050 look like? With an interstate, land to build, airports, and a fantastic workforce, will Washington County aggressively compete for the economic growth being spurred in the rest of southeast Wisconsin? Or will we prefer to leverage the county’s idyllic natural beauty to attract commuters and nature enthusiasts? Or something in between? What is the right mix and balance?

These are the things that a county executive will help define and give the voters the opportunity to choose the direction they want. And, more importantly, if a county executive takes the county down a path that the voters do not want, it only takes a single election to change direction.

As candidates for county executive step forward to ask for our votes over the next few months, I welcome an array of competing visions for the future of our county so that we, the voters, may debate and decide the future direction of Washington County.

Washington County to Have an Executive

This is a reversal from the vote in June.

September 11, 2019 – Washington Co., WI – With two Washington County Supervisors absent, (Roger Kist and Brian Gallitz) the County Board voted for a second time on a resolution to change the form of government to an elected county executive, rather than an appointed county administrator.
[…]
This means in April 2020 there will be a race for the seat for Washington County Executive. So far county administrator Joshua Schoemann has not indicated if he will run for the post. He said he’s going to take a couple days and then make a statement on his decision.

I support this move. As I wrote in my column a few months ago, Washington County has reached a size and complexity that it makes sense to exist in the American model of three co-equal branches of government. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we left it alone, but I’d prefer to have an elected County Executive. Now what…

There will be a scramble for people to run… maybe. We’ve never had this elected position before so nobody has really been looking at it. It’s a full time gig that requires some executive leadership skills. That doesn’t appeal to everyone. The obvious lead candidate is Josh Schoemann, the current County Administrator. Certainly nobody could argue against his knowledge of County Government. At the same time, he could be viewed as just part of the county swamp. Why bother having an elected County Executive if you are just going to put the same person back at the helm? Of course, all that will depend on if he runs and who runs against him. It’s going to be an interesting few months to see who throws their hat into the ring.

A couple more side points…

With this move, the county is violating Schoemann’s contract and will have to pay out about $130k to him. That’s a temporary expense and no reason to hold back from changing our form of government if we think that’s the right way to go, but it is worth noting. It would have been nice if they could have timed the change with the expiration of his contract.

Also, this is exactly the kind of attitude that frustrates me:

Supervisor Jenkins – “I brought it back and then voted against it a second time because it still deserved time to do the research and get feedback but for me I feel our electorate voting has pretty limited knowledge on county government. To me now laying this task on the people in the county to have this very important vote, honestly it scares me a bit. So now that it’s past there’s going to have to be a lot of education on what sort of role (county executive) this is. I also feel the difference in position is we will now be tasking the operations of the county to someone who wins a popularity contest. There’s a role for that in democracy but I hope we find a balance.

So… we shouldn’t have elected government because the people are too ignorant? That’s the same argument that’s been used against representative government by tyrants for millennia. As the saying goes, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms.”

UPDATE: Chris Jenkins sent me a note clarifying his statement:

I view the county exec as the day to day administrator who should come with some sort of knowledge and background to run this immense operation. That is why I was worried about electing this kind of position. I am obviously all for elected positions, as I have been in multiple roles myself. I just hope we now surround our county exec with the staff he/she needs to successfully run the operations of the County.

POWTS Meeting Tomorrow Night

FYI

Washington County has rescheduled the Fiscal Health Informational Meeting for Tuesday, August 27th at 6:00 p.m. at the Washington County Fair Park Pavilion Exhibit Hall. An update regarding the status of the proposed POWTS Special Assessment will be provided in addition to a discussion about the County’s fiscal health and budget. Any assistance in distributing this information is greatly appreciated.

You can find my column about this issue here.

POWTS Fee Dead?

Maybe.

County Administrator Joshua Schoemann said he is going to make a recommendation at the August 22 meeting.

“At that meeting I will recommend to that committee to vote ‘No’ on implementing the POWTS fee,” he said.

During the Sept. 11 County Board meeting, Schoemann said he will again recommend the County Board vote ‘No’ on the POWTS fee.

“We’ve recognized the situation and the outcry and citizens clearly have no interest in doing the fee or the tax; call it what you want it’s a tax. So I had a budget workshop and I don’t think this board has the votes,” he said.

On the other hand, if the board does have the votes to pass the fee Schoemann said come October the County Board would have to pass the budget with the POWTS fee and that needs 18 votes. “I don’t think there’s 18 votes on the County Board to pass the budget with the fee in it,” he said. “So the board is properly responding to the constituents, I’m trying to be responsive to the constituents; they don’t want the fee and we’re not going to implement the fee.”

It’s not about the $11

Here’s my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday.

Last week this column covered a proposal by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department to impost a new annual fee on the 20,312 private onsite wastewater treatment systems in the county. The passionate opposition to the proposed $11 fee reminds us that the fires that heated the tea party movement and continue to burn for President Trump are still very hot in Washington County.

For what was supposed to be just another sleepy public meeting at 7:35 on a Thursday morning, well over on hundred agitated citizens showed up to have their say. The main room overflowed into two other rooms. At one point, the meeting was paused for 15 minutes while they removed the chairs to be in compliance with the fire code.

By the time the meeting was over, hours later, over sixty people had spoken. Many more people had signed up to speak, but had to leave for reason or another as the hours dragged on. When the speakers had finished, 146 pages of letters and emails that were sent to public officials regarding the proposed POWTS fee were read. The people were almost universally in opposition to the proposed fee, but the commentary exposed the many fissures in the public’s trust of government.

Several of the speakers pointed out that the meeting was being held at an incredibly inconvenient time for anyone who works. One speaker pointed out that everyone in the room was of retirement age — to the jovial objection of a younger woman swimming in the sea of grey. The speakers and letters continued to emphasize that a government that really cares about what the people think makes an effort to schedule public hearings for a time when people can actually attend.

Some of the opposition centered on the fact that the proposed fee is simply a tax by another name and that government fees inevitably and unrelentingly go up. The wise citizens of Washington County are not to be bamboozled by arbitrary word games. They know that money being taken out of their pockets by their government is still money they no longer have, whether referred to as a tax or a fee by government officials.

Much of the outrage had to do with how the money from the proposed fee was to be spent. One woman pointed out that the first nine items in the list of expenses were for salaries, benefits, overtime, retirement, etc. for county employees. These items comprise more than 75% of the entire costs associated with the POWTS program. It is an enormous cost for such a rudimentary government function. Further larded into the cost are expenses for membership dues, advertising, travel, lodging, vehicles, and all of the other expenses that seem so unnecessary and wasteful.

One speaker highlighted the fact that Washington County still insists on having 26 county supervisors – each of which is paid a salary, per diem, and expenses. Meanwhile, the county continues to run Washington County Fair Park and a golf course.

Another speaker pointed out that POWTS owners already pay a county sales tax on all of the construction and maintenance of their POWTS that far exceeds the money allocated to the POWTS program. County citizens have not forgotten that the county sales tax was originally imposed as a temporary necessity to pay for a handful of critical infrastructure projects, but now it is a permanent county fixture.

While the written and spoken opposition to the proposed POWTS fee was wide-ranging and fierce, there was a common theme: The people are sick and tired of government that doesn’t listen to them, doesn’t care about them, and doesn’t respect them. Politicians and government bureaucrats too often operate in a world detached from the realities of the people they are supposed to serve. In this case, a proposal for a silly $11 fee/tax revealed just how large that detachment is.

It’s not about the $11

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I was marveling at a truly fascinating public meeting regarding the proposed POWTS fee. I’m hearing whispers that the County Board is just going to ram it through. They do so at their own peril. Here’s a sample:

Last week this column covered a proposal by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department to impost a new annual fee on the 20,312 private onsite wastewater treatment systems in the county. The passionate opposition to the proposed $11 fee reminds us that the fires that heated the tea party movement and continue to burn for President Trump are still very hot in Washington County.

For what was supposed to be just another sleepy public meeting at 7:35 on a Thursday morning, well over on hundred agitated citizens showed up to have their say. The main room overflowed into two other rooms. At one point, the meeting was paused for 15 minutes while they removed the chairs to be in compliance with the fire code.

By the time the meeting was over, hours later, over sixty people had spoken. Many more people had signed up to speak, but had to leave for reason or another as the hours dragged on. When the speakers had finished, 146 pages of letters and emails that were sent to public officials regarding the proposed POWTS fee were read. The people were almost universally in opposition to the proposed fee, but the commentary exposed the many fissures in the public’s trust of government.

[…]

While the written and spoken opposition to the proposed POWTS fee was wide-ranging and fierce, there was a common theme: The people are sick and tired of government that doesn’t listen to them, doesn’t care about them, and doesn’t respect them. Politicians and government bureaucrats too often operate in a world detached from the realities of the people they are supposed to serve. In this case, a proposal for a silly $11 fee/tax revealed just how large that detachment is.

 

Live Stream of Public Hearing for POWTS

The Washington County Insider is live streaming the Washington County Parks Department hearing about the proposed new POWTS fee (see column yesterday). They are currently on a break because there are so many people there that they broke the fire code! Good job, neighbors.

Anyway, so far the comments have been very eloquent and truly express the frustration that people have with governments that just keep jacking up costs without adding any value.

Anyway, this is a fantastic example of representative government in action. Tune in.

Restart of broadcast

POWTS Fee Opposition

Thanks to an alert county resident who pointed me to this link. On Washington County’s website, you can find 146 pages of letters from county residents regarding the proposed POWTS fee referenced in my column. Interestingly, the email that I sent to my county supervisor is not there. I wonder how many others are missing.

Let’s just say that the people are not amused.

The hearing for this is tomorrow morning at 7:35 if you are able to attend.

No new fees

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

Perhaps taking their cue from the Republicans in the Legislature, the Washington County Board is considering implementing a new fee on Washington County taxpayers to do something that the county has already been doing for nearly 20 years. The public hearing being held by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department is at 7:35 a.m. on Thursday. Since, like many people, I work and cannot attend a public meeting at 7:35 a.m. on a weekday, I will offer some thoughts in this space.

The new fee being considered is to pay for tracking the maintenance of private onsite wastewater treatment systems (POWTS). Much of Washington County is rural and residents do not have access to municipal sewer systems, so they install and maintain a private septic system. There are about 20,312 parcels in the county with a POWTS. The state has mandated since 2000 that counties track and report to make sure that these private systems are properly maintained. Washington County has been complying with this state mandate with the use of general county funds since then. The new annual fee being considered is $11 for the vast majority of POWTS owners.

The POWTS tracking system is fairly rudimentary. Every three years, the county sends a postcard reminder to the POWTS owners to remind them that they need to have their system maintained. The POWTS owner contracts with a private company that inspects the system, completes any necessary maintenance or cleaning, and then notifies the county that it is complete. The POWTS owner bears the cost of all of this.

Philosophically, there is nothing wrong with a fee to fund a government service. The difference between a fee and a tax is that a fee is usually voluntary and charged to the specific person who is receiving the direct benefit of the service. For example, a fee for a marriage license is perfectly reasonable. The couple getting married is receiving the direct benefit of the county service and there is no rational reason that all of the other taxpayers should bear the burden.

In the case of a new POWTS maintenance fee, it is not voluntary and the entire county is receiving the benefit. For the vast majority of POWTS owners, it is not optional. There are not any other waste treatment options available to them, so they must install and maintain a POWTS at their own expense. The purpose of the government tracking the maintenance of them is to help ensure that the water supply for all county residents is not unduly polluted. Given that the fee is not optional for POWTS owners and every county taxpayer is receiving the benefit, the fee being proposed would be more correctly described as a selective tax.

Furthermore, remember that this is a service that the county has been providing for nearly 20 years. As they consider supporting this service with a standalone fee, there has not been any corollary proposal to reduce the county property tax levy or sales tax by a corresponding amount. The fee is just in addition to all of the other taxes that county taxpayers are already paying. As presented, this is not a discussion about whether or not this particular service should be funded with a fee or the general tax. It is about whether the county should charge a fee for something they were already doing and then just use the liberated general tax revenue to spend on something else. It is a straightforward path to more spending.

Finally, one must really question the cost. At $11 per parcel, the proposed fee would raise roughly $230,000 per year. Look back at the third paragraph for how this program works. It is sending a postcard every three years and logging that the work is complete. It is something that could be completed by an intern with a spreadsheet. $230,000 per year?

In the program cost detail shared by the Planning and Parks Department, the annual program cost is actually listed at $227,527.28. Only $2,200 is allocated for printing, copying, and postage. The rest is for wages ($126,370), overtime ($400), benefits ($45,100.60), advertising ($300), office supplies ($600), vehicles ($6,300), conference fees ($1,400), cost allocation for planning ($25,578), and on and on. That is a tremendous amount of overhead and larded-up costs for a very, very simple POWTS maintenance program. I find it difficult to imagine why POWTS owners should be charged an extra fee to shoulder the costs of things like conference fees and advertising.

The proposed POWTS fee looks suspiciously like another money grab by a government to continue to fund bloat and waste. The Washington County Board should categorically reject it and apologize to the taxpayers for ever suggesting it.

No New Fees

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a taste:

Perhaps taking their cue from the Republicans in the Legislature, the Washington County Board is considering implementing a new fee on Washington County taxpayers to do something that the county has already been doing for nearly 20 years. The public hearing being held by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department is at 7:35 a.m. on Thursday. Since, like many people, I work and cannot attend a public meeting at 7:35 a.m. on a weekday, I will offer some thoughts in this space.

The new fee being considered is to pay for tracking the maintenance of private onsite wastewater treatment systems (POWTS). Much of Washington County is rural and residents do not have access to municipal sewer systems, so they install and maintain a private septic system. There are about 20,312 parcels in the county with a POWTS. The state has mandated since 2000 that counties track and report to make sure that these private systems are properly maintained. Washington County has been complying with this state mandate with the use of general county funds since then. The new annual fee being considered is $11 for the vast majority of POWTS owners.

[…]

As presented, this is not a discussion about whether or not this particular service should be funded with a fee or the general tax. It is about whether the county should charge a fee for something they were already doing and then just use the liberated general tax revenue to spend on something else. It is a straightforward path to more spending.

Finally, one must really question the cost. At $11 per parcel, the proposed fee would raise roughly $230,000 per year. Look back at the third paragraph for how this program works. It is sending a postcard every three years and logging that the work is complete. It is something that could be completed by an intern with a spreadsheet. $230,000 per year?

In the program cost detail shared by the Planning and Parks Department, the annual program cost is actually listed at $227,527.28. Only $2,200 is allocated for printing, copying, and postage. The rest is for wages ($126,370), overtime ($400), benefits ($45,100.60), advertising ($300), office supplies ($600), vehicles ($6,300), conference fees ($1,400), cost allocation for planning ($25,578), and on and on. That is a tremendous amount of overhead and larded-up costs for a very, very simple POWTS maintenance program. I find it difficult to imagine why POWTS owners should be charged an extra fee to shoulder the costs of things like conference fees and advertising.

The proposed POWTS fee looks suspiciously like another money grab by a government to continue to fund bloat and waste. The Washington County Board should categorically reject it and apologize to the taxpayers for ever suggesting it.

Washington County To Hold Hearing on New Tax

From the Washington County Insider.

July 6, 2019 – Washington County, WI – The Washington County Planning and Parks Department will be holding a public hearing on Thursday, July 25, 2019 at 7:35 a.m. regarding the creation of an Annual Special Charge Tax Assessment for Washington County properties served by Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) for the purposes of tracking and maintenance.

The POWTS Maintenence Program Special Charge report, which can be found here, states:

The number of parcels serviced by POWTS in Washington County continues to change and we continue to
refine the inventory of systems. As of June 13, 2019, staff estimates 20,313 parcels are served by POWTS
throughout the County. Staff is recommending program costs be assessed at $11 per parcel annually served
by POWTS or $11 per system, whichever is greater based on the above cost estimate. Approximately 20,209
parcels (99.5%) would be assessed an $11 fee ($11 x 20,209= $222,299). The remaining roughly 103 parcels
would be assessed between $22-$66 depending on the number of POWTS systems on the property as follows:
 4 parcels at $66 annually
 6 parcels at $55 annually
 4 parcels at $44 annually
 10 parcels at $33 annually
 80 parcels at $22 annually

The public hearing will be held on Thursday, July 25, 2019, at 7:35 a.m. in Room 1014 of the Herbert J Tennies Government Center, 423 E. Washington Street, West Bend.

I should mention that this impacts me since I have a septic system. Here’s the thing… I don’t mind fees. They are a rational way for the government to raise revenue instead of taxes. In general, I think that fees are fine when it is an optional government service. Toll roads, car registration fees, park fees, etc… fine. The use of fees get a bit more dubious when they are mandatory. In that case, the distinction between a fee and a tax ceases to exist. In this case, most people with septic systems do not have access to another choice, so the fee is simply a tax to them.

In this case, two things rub me the wrong way. First, the cost. Here’s how this works… I have to have my septic system serviced and inspected once every three years. The county keeps track of it and sends me a post card reminder when it is due. I pay a private contractor to do the work and then they send notice to the county to say that it’s done. The entire process can be run by an intern with a spreadsheet. Why does it cost over $200k per year? That seems extraordinary. I’d love to hear the reason.

The second thing that rubs me wrong is just that it is a change to support more spending. This system has been in place for nearly twenty years and now the county wants to shift it off the general tax and into a fee. If it had been a fee since the beginning, then fine. But since the general taxpayers have been paying for it all along, it means that the county wants to shift this cost to the septic system owners and presumably free up they general tax revenue for some other spending. I don’t see them offering to lower the county property tax or sales tax y $200k+, so it is just implementing a new fee on one hand to support more spending from the other hand.

$11 per year isn’t going to break anyone, but it is just another nagging fee that makes the county a little more expensive and a little more annoying to live in – especially for rural citizens.

Washington County Will Not Have an Executive

That’s a shame. I suspect that parochial interests prevailed here.

WEST BEND — Elected leaders here on Wednesday shot down a proposed government reform effort that would have replaced an appointed administrator with an executive leader who would have been elected from across Washington County.

But the decision was close.

Thirteen of the county’s 26 board members voted against a measure they said felt rushed and ill-timed — and that they worried would have had monumental impacts on the county’s government.

The board’s remaining 13 members supported a move they’d argued would have enabled Washington County to absorb expected population and commercial growth.

But the measure required a majority, and the 13-to-13 tie defeated the resolution.

Washington County Board Chairman Advocates for County Executive

Don Kriefall takes on the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument. Here’s a part:

We are in a good situation, both fiscally and operationally. The fact of the matter is that we are in the middle of an economic boom, and our geographic location makes us part of metro Milwaukee and like it or not, the economic development has already begun.

There is good reason that people have decided to live in Washington County, the No. 1 county in Wisconsin for quality of life. We want to preserve the values and unique characteristics that make Washington County so special. We want to be in a position to manage growth and thereby maintain and continue to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Washington County. In order to effectively manage the growth, all stakeholders, countywide, need to be brought to the table. An appropriate plan of action, beyond our current smart growth plans, must be developed and agreed upon by all the municipalities in Washington County in order for each community to benefit from those opportunities. One voice, one leader with the mandate of the citizens, should lead Washington County into the bright future that awaits us.

We need a leader that can leverage our industry and technical schools to train the workers needed to provide the goods and services necessary for our citizens and beyond. We need a leader that can create partnerships outside of Washington County to recruit the workers necessary to fill employment opportunities currently open and those that will be created in the future. We need a leader that can work with developers to construct housing for that workforce that is appropriate to the communities in which they will be built. We need a leader that can work with other counties to explore avenues of cooperation in shared services, equipment and infrastructure.

A system with 26 diverse supervisors cannot negotiate as one voice. A system with a part-time county chairperson is inadequate to lead as the CEO of Washington County. Yes, our current system “ain’t broke,” but it is insufficient to accomplish the ever evolving tasks necessary to manage growth now and into the future. That one voice needs to be a county executive that is accountable to the electorate and the time to elect that leader is now.

Washington County needs an executive

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

The Washington County Board of Supervisors is considering changing the structure of county government to create a county executive instead of the current county administrator structure. The County Board should move swiftly to enact this change in time for the voters of Washington County to elect their first county executive next April.

Wisconsin allows for three forms of county government that have progressively more powerful executive functions. The first form has a very weak administrative coordinator. In this form of government, the county board appoints a coordinator who has very limited power, but is responsible for coordinating and executing the orders from the board. The coordinator does not appoint department heads and does not have any independent budget authority. Thirty three Wisconsin counties use this structure.

The second form has a stronger executive function held by county administrator. The county board still appoints the county administrator, but the administrator has the authority to prepare and present a budget, appoint and remove department heads with confirmation from the county board, and coordinate departments. This is the form of government that Washington County uses along with 28 other counties.

The third form of county government empowers an elected county executive with responsibility for the executive functions of government. In this form, all of the voters in the county elect a single executive. As such, the county executive cannot be removed by the county board. Only the governor can remove a county executive for cause. The county executive has all of the powers and responsibilities of a county administrator, but also has the power to veto county board actions and remove department heads without board confirmation. Eleven, mostly more urban, Wisconsin counties have a county executive including neighboring Fond du Lac, Waukesha, and Milwaukee counties.

The main benefit for Washington County of switching to a county executive form of government is that is gives the electors a single person who represents the entire county. That person would be able to set a vision and direction for the county, as well as be held responsible for the overall performance of county government.

In the current form of Washington County’s government, there are 26 supervisors (still way too many) who each represent a few thousand citizens. They elect a county chairperson, other board officers, and appoint the county administrator. Each county board supervisor is elected to represent the interests of his or her constituents — as it should be. Nobody on the board represents the entire county.

Similarly, if the citizens are dissatisfied with the direction of county government, it is extremely difficult to make their will known across a slate of 26 board supervisors. To enact a change in direction, at least 14 new people must run and win across the county to build a new majority on the County Board. And if the County Board passes something outrageous, there is not any veto check on their action like there is at the state and federal levels of government.

By having a county executive, Washington County would have a single person who would represent the entire county’s interests with businesses, state government, and other interests. The citizens of the county would also have a single person to take their grievances to when a county department fails them. It would make county government more nimble and more responsive to the citizens and external interests.

The down side of having a county executive is that the legislative part of county government, the Board of Supervisors, would have to cede some of their current power over executive functions. This is a small price to pay for the benefits a county executive would bring to the county.

Our nation has a long history of having three separate, distinct branches of government that balance and check each other. Washington County has reached a level of population, complexity, and maturity that make this the right time to create an independent executive branch.

Washington County needs an executive

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I argue that Washington County needs to move to a County Executive instead of a County Administrator. Here’s a part:

By having a county executive, Washington County would have a single person who would represent the entire county’s interests with businesses, state government, and other interests. The citizens of the county would also have a single person to take their grievances to when a county department fails them. It would make county government more nimble and more responsive to the citizens and external interests.

The down side of having a county executive is that the legislative part of county government, the Board of Supervisors, would have to cede some of their current power over executive functions. This is a small price to pay for the benefits a county executive would bring to the county.

Our nation has a long history of having three separate, distinct branches of government that balance and check each other. Washington County has reached a level of population, complexity, and maturity that make this the right time to create an independent executive branch.

 

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.