Boots & Sabers

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Tag: Washington County

Concerns at Samaritan

From the Washington County Insider. I’ve had some personal insight into Samaritan and it is in sore need of attention. One wonders when that shoe is going to drop.

What once appeared a priority in the county with a dedicated Task Force and study committee, now, as a Samaritan resident noted, did not even manage a reference during the county executive’s 2022 state of the county address.

 

So, what is the status of the Samaritan Home and what is the future?

 

[…]

  • Part of the discussion during the July 2021 meeting was financing and awaiting funds from the U.S. Treasury. A section of the story read; Washington County is in line to receive approximately $26.2 million in federal COVID relief funding. Schoemann said it is possible the federal money the County will be receiving could pay for this. “That’s why I said we have to let Matt finish all his work. By the time he finishes we should have final guidance from the U.S. Treasury.  I don’t know that it would pay for all of it, but it may be able to pay for a good portion,” he said.

 

The “Matt” referred to in the story is Matt Furno. Calls have been placed to Furno but recently a policy was enacted by the county executive and Furno said he cannot now speak directly to the issue. “I am not allowed to speak,” he said, “We could use your help in this whole thing.”

 

An email was sent to have a sit-down interview with Furno but so far there’s been no response.

 

[…]

 

Inside the Samaritan Home residents talk about the limited staff and some have mentioned how staff are paid with gift cards as incentives should they choose to work 7 days a week or more. Residents have also mentioned feelings of worry and insecurity about their living situation. Another wondered if the National Guard would be brought in to help with staffing.

 

County Supervisor Jodi Schulteis is Chairperson of the Human Services Committee, which in part, is informed about the Samaritan Home and its status. On the county board since being appointed in 2020, Schulteis said she has not been inside the Samaritan Home.

 

Questioned about the future of the Samaritan Home she said, “We continue to meet on it and discuss it and we continue to take the Task Force recommendation seriously but there has been no decision one way or the other.”

Tax increases coming in conservative Washington County

Here is my full column that ran earlier this week in the Washington County Daily News:

What is going on in Washington County? The county that brags about being the most conservative county in the state is awash with proposals for massive tax increases. Several local governments and the county itself are lining up for huge tax increases during a recession when inflation is raging out of control. The numbers always tell the story. Let us dig a little into the numbers of Washington County, the city of West Bend, and the West Bend School District.

 

Washington County has put a referendum on the ballot this November asking the voters if they should increase the property tax levy by 9.9% to add positions to the Sheriff’s Department. County officials are selling the tax increase as necessary to combat an increase in crime and drug use that is spilling over the border from Milwaukee. Officials are also selling the notion that the tax levy rate will still decrease even with the increase. Free money, right?

 

Looking into the numbers, the crime and drug issues are certainly real. The portrayal of the budget is not. According to county budget information, in 2010 the county spent $118.38 million. The proposed 2023 budget is $135.37 million. That is a spending increase of 14.3% over the period. Over the same period, the county’s population increased by 4.5% according to U.S. Census data. The county has been increasing spending faster than the underlying population it serves has been growing. County officials are correct that the property tax rate has been decreasing for several years. How have they pulled off an increase in spending with a decrease in taxes? The answer is twofold. First, while the levy rate has been decreasing, the property values that it taxes have been increasing. Second, the county has been more and more reliant on the county sales tax. According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, per-capita county sales tax collections in Washington County have increased by a whopping 63% between 2010 and 2021.

 

Washington County has been more frugal than most governments, but that is like bragging about being the smartest Bears fan.

 

The city of West Bend rejected the idea of putting a referendum on the ballot to ask for a big tax increase, but that is only because they chose to consider increasing taxes on their own authority. In West Bend’s case, they are arguing that they need to enact a huge tax increase to improve the roads. The numbers argue against giving them more money to spend.

 

In 2016, the earliest year for which city officials have chosen to publish numbers on their website, the city’s operating budget general fund spent $21.4 million. In 2022, that budget is $25.8 million. That is a 20.5% increase in spending in six years. Over the same period, the city’s population grew a negligible 0.08% from 31,702 to 31,727 according to census data. A city taxpayer might ask where all of that increased spending has been going if not to repair the roads.

 

The West Bend School District is in the beginning stages of thinking about asking the taxpayers for more money in a referendum as early as April of next year. As in previous referendum attempts, the school district will want to spend more money on facilities and will paint the scary picture of students being educated in unsafe conditions. Again, the numbers tell a story.

 

According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, in fiscal year 2013, the West Bend School District spent $76.01 million. In fiscal year 2021, they spent $87.03 million. That is an increase of 14.5%. At the same time, the district saw enrollment decline 16% from 6,952 to 5,824 students according to the district’s own figures. Increasing spending in the face of declining enrollment resulted in a per-student increase in district spending of 36.7% over the last ten years. Again, a prudent district taxpayer might ask where all of that money is going if not to ensure that the students are receiving a quality education in a safe environment.

 

If there was any time when conservative elected leaders should be standing up for taxpayers, this is it. The taxpayers’ family budgets are already being squeezed from all directions. Conservative elected leaders should start from the position that the government has enough money and budget from there.

Tax increases coming in conservative Washington County

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

What is going on in Washington County? The county that brags about being the most conservative county in the state is awash with proposals for massive tax increases. Several local governments and the county itself are lining up for huge tax increases during a recession when inflation is raging out of control. The numbers always tell the story. Let us dig a little into the numbers of Washington County, the city of West Bend, and the West Bend School District.

 

Washington County has put a referendum on the ballot this November asking the voters if they should increase the property tax levy by 9.9% to add positions to the Sheriff’s Department. County officials are selling the tax increase as necessary to combat an increase in crime and drug use that is spilling over the border from Milwaukee. Officials are also selling the notion that the tax levy rate will still decrease even with the increase. Free money, right?

 

Looking into the numbers, the crime and drug issues are certainly real. The portrayal of the budget is not. According to county budget information, in 2010 the county spent $118.38 million. The proposed 2023 budget is $135.37 million. That is a spending increase of 14.3% over the period. Over the same period, the county’s population increased by 4.5% according to U.S. Census data. The county has been increasing spending faster than the underlying population it serves has been growing. County officials are correct that the property tax rate has been decreasing for several years. How have they pulled off an increase in spending with a decrease in taxes? The answer is twofold. First, while the levy rate has been decreasing, the property values that it taxes have been increasing. Second, the county has been more and more reliant on the county sales tax. According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, per-capita county sales tax collections in Washington County have increased by a whopping 63% between 2010 and 2021.

 

Washington County has been more frugal than most governments, but that is like bragging about being the smartest Bears fan.

“No” To Washington County Referendum

Guest article from former Assembly Representative Jesse Kremer. I agree.

As a former legislator and Vice-Chair of the Public Safety Committee in the Wisconsin Assembly, my family and I support our local law enforcement 100%.  While I agree that we could use a few more servants in blue patrolling the streets, permanently raising our county taxes by nearly 10% will not reduce crime.  I will be voting NO on the Washington County Board’s Anti-Crime Plan tax referendum this fall.

 

It is blatantly obvious that our county government leaders have begun actively campaigning for this behemoth tax increase.  They are regularly publicizing the types of individuals being apprehended while traversing our county.  I have no doubt that our taxpayer funded county newsletter will also be actively shilling for our YES vote in the near future.

 

Crime is a real problem and there are real solutions.  We just need to be engaged.

 

Many families, including ours, does not have the means to perpetually shell out money.  Washington County used to be the most conservative county in Wisconsin.  Pushing referendums on residents with no studies or data, however, is reckless, especially when our families are all experiencing:

  1. Rampant inflation and “COVID-excuse” supply chain issues increasing our grocery bills by 30%.
  2. Spiking energy costs, twice this year already, to cover supply shortages and subsidize the “renewables” being purchased by energy companies.
  3. A 250% increase in fuel bills from just a couple of years ago.

 

But what if some of the initial funds are “free money” – grants from the state or federal government? Free money does not exist.  After the funds are gone, we, the taxpayers, will still be on the hook to cover the costs of a government program that once established, will not be eliminated.

 

While I am extremely concerned with the rampant crime in our state, it is not because we do not have enough local law enforcement – or enough laws from Madison.  There are real solutions:

  1. In modern-day American, there is no deterrent for crime. Judges and prosecutors are not locking up offenders to the fullest extent of the law.  Case in point (2022WA000414):  Recently there were several high-dollar, commercial thefts and burglaries in Washington County.  Our public servants did their job and arrested the perpetrators.  Our newest judge, Sandra Giernoth, a Gov. Evers appointee, turned around and released him on a $10,000 bond allowing the criminal to simply skip out on his hearing and continue to terrorize the community.  It is time to hold our judges and prosecutors accountable.  We must kick them out via the election process if they are unable to keep our communities safe!
  2. There is no sense of morality. Over the past 70 years our government and many of our public agencies have actively campaigned to destroy religious institutions and take a wrecking ball to the nuclear family.  This has to stop!  Strong families must be encouraged and our religious organizations allowed to thrive.

 

If we must increase taxes to fight crime it would be better invested in additional prisons resulting in more, and longer, incarcerations.  This may be the one solution that the 2-3% of thugs who are destroying our society, and the Mayberry lifestyle as we knew it, can comprehend.

Washington County Exec Campaigns for Raising Taxes

With raging inflation, an economy in recession, and people seeing their nest eggs plundered, Washington County Executive Josh Shoemann is campaigning to raise property taxes. And he thinks you’re stupid enough to believe that he can raise taxes and you got a tax decrease. When I supported moving Washington County to an Executive structure, I really didn’t think that the first one would try to build his political resume on tax increases.

Schoemann described increasing the sheriff’s office’s share of the county tax levy from $15.2 million, 43.7 percent, when he took office to $20 million, 55 percent, today, a 33 percent increase.

 

He then spoke of the $3.6 million Anti-Crime Plan referendum, which will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

 

“[The plan] will provide more law enforcement resources to our schools; more mental health resources in times of crisis and with non-acute cases out of the justice system; more inter-county and cross-county drug task force engagement; more mental health support and additional resources to combat substance use in our jail; and improved emergency and crises response and management,” said Schoemann.

 

The referendum would see an increase of 30-and-ahalf staff positions across multiple departments in the sheriff’s office, including teaming up three social workers and three sheriff’s deputies to address mental health crisis calls.

 

The referendum, if passed by county residents, will raise the tax levy 9.89 percent, but there will still be an estimated nine cent per $1,000 of assessed value decrease in the county tax rate, at least.

 

“Whether the referendum is adopted or not, your county portion of the property tax rate will likely go down, it’s just a matter of how much. … This referendum is not about whether we want a new shiny building or field. It is about whether we need a proactive response to the crime plague seeping across our border,” said Schoemann. “So, the question our community must decide is this: What do we hate more, growing government or growing crime?”

No, this is not a binary question. Government can stay the same size and reallocate budget to priorities like fighting crime. The threat that the county will be unable to grapple with crime without a tax increase is an admission of failed governance.

Washington County Board should reject tax increase referendum

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

On August 10, the Washington County Board will vote on whether or not to submit to the taxpayers a referendum asking to forever raise taxes above the statutory limit to increase the size of the Sheriff’s Department. Let us hope that they come to their senses and forgo the referendum. If they do not, let us hope that the good people of Washington County have the good senses to vote it down.

 

The wording of the referendum may be tweaked by the County Board if they put it on the ballot, but the essence will be to ask the voters to increase taxes by almost 10% forevermore for the purpose of permanently increasing the staff of the Sheriff’s Department by about 15. The money would also be used to generally increase pay to attract and retain staff.

 

The increase in staffing is part of the county’s anticrime effort to combat increasing crime in the county. Is crime really increasing that much? Is the increase in crime just a reflection of the population growth? Are current resources appropriately allocated? How much of a crime reduction will the increase in staffing cause? Some of these questions were asked by supervisors on the Public Safety Committee, but answers were not forthcoming. Promising that more information would be available at the full County Board meeting, the committee unanimously approved the question to go to the full board.

 

There is no doubt that crime in this country is increasing largely thanks to intentionally lax law enforcement in our largest cities and the unending tide of illegal aliens flowing across our borders. Fighting crime is a legitimate duty of government and citizens in Washington County have always been supportive of law enforcement.

 

Budgets, however, are about priorities. Washington County spends almost $140 million per year on all functions. The Sheriff’s Department takes about $23 million, or 16.4% of the budget. If fighting crime is truly a priority, are the County Board and county executive really not able to reallocate funding from the other 83.6% of the budget? Instead, they want taxpayers to reallocate their family budgets to pay for that increase in spending?

 

County supervisors should also remember that they do not operate in a vacuum. The citizens who pay those taxes are facing a hard time financially. President Biden’s inflation economy is making prices rise faster than they have in 40 years. Unfortunately, most people’s incomes are not keeping up, so real income is dropping like a rock. Fuel prices are robbing people of mobility and everything is just getting more expensive. Families are cutting back on unnecessary expenses.

 

Meanwhile, times are good in government. After several years of money raining out of Washington from the Trump and Biden administrations to attempt to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic, local governments have been awash in spending cash. Now they are reaping the benefits of inflation because taxes are based on percentages. As the median home price in southeast Wisconsin has risen 48% since January of 2020, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, property taxes have risen accordingly.

 

So, too, has the sales tax. Washington County passed a county sales tax years ago that was sold as a temporary emergency need. They have since made the tax permanent and continue to spend the proceeds. As the prices of goods and services have risen with inflation, so has the money spent on sales taxes. Washington County will likely see a record year in sales tax collections in 2022. Where will that money go? Could it be used to fund a spending increase in the Sheriff’s Department instead of asking the taxpayers to send even more money to the county?

 

Nobody questions that fighting crime is important and that Washington County deserves a properly funded Sheriff’s Department to meet the needs of the day. But using the current heightened concern about crime to call for a tax increase during a time when inflation is rampant and the economy is slipping into recession borders on the kind of cynicism we expect in Milwaukee – not Washington County.

 

The Washington County Board should decline to ask the taxpayers for more money and fund the increase in spending for the Sheriff’s Department if it is truly needed. The county has enough of our tax dollars to deliver on their obligations.

Washington County Board should reject tax increase referendum

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

County supervisors should also remember that they do not operate in a vacuum. The citizens who pay those taxes are facing a hard time financially. President Biden’s inflation economy is making prices rise faster than they have in 40 years. Unfortunately, most people’s incomes are not keeping up, so real income is dropping like a rock. Fuel prices are robbing people of mobility and everything is just getting more expensive. Families are cutting back on unnecessary expenses.

 

Meanwhile, times are good in government. After several years of money raining out of Washington from the Trump and Biden administrations to attempt to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic, local governments have been awash in spending cash. Now they are reaping the benefits of inflation because taxes are based on percentages. As the median home price in southeast Wisconsin has risen 48% since January of 2020, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association, property taxes have risen accordingly.

 

So, too, has the sales tax. Washington County passed a county sales tax years ago that was sold as a temporary emergency need. They have since made the tax permanent and continue to spend the proceeds. As the prices of goods and services have risen with inflation, so has the money spent on sales taxes. Washington County will likely see a record year in sales tax collections in 2022. Where will that money go? Could it be used to fund a spending increase in the Sheriff’s Department instead of asking the taxpayers to send even more money to the county?

 

Nobody questions that fighting crime is important and that Washington County deserves a properly funded Sheriff’s Department to meet the needs of the day. But using the current heightened concern about crime to call for a tax increase during a time when inflation is rampant and the economy is slipping into recession borders on the kind of cynicism we expect in Milwaukee – not Washington County.

 

The Washington County Board should decline to ask the taxpayers for more money and fund the increase in spending for the Sheriff’s Department if it is truly needed. The county has enough of our tax dollars to deliver on their obligations.

Washington County Headed to Referendum to Pay for “Safety”

Call me skeptical. From the Washington County Insider:

July 21, 2022 – Washington Co., WI – The Washington County Joint Safety Committee approved a proposed $3.6 million public safety referendum to increase the budget for the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
If the referendum is approved the $3.6 million would continue in perpetuity meaning it would be a regular tax every year moving forward.

[…]

A couple of bullet points from the Wednesday, July 20, 2022, Public Safety Committee meeting. The full draft of the Washington County Anti-Crime Plan is also below.

  • The referendum would cover an additional 30.5 full-time positions; there would be an increase in staffing with Sheriff’s Department patrol or mental health. There were several requests for additional data for specifics and supervisors were told that information is forthcoming.

  • County Executive Josh Schoemann said, “The county board could fund it (the $3.6 million) if they so choose.”

  • “Bottom line is, if the county board chose to fund all these positions on their own, they have the ability to do that. My concern is it’s such a big increase, relatively speaking, I think the people of Washington County should make that choice. If they don’t want to increase their tax rate, increase the levy, then we don’t,” said Schoemann.

  • “There’s enough property tax levity and flexibility, because we have not been taking the full amount of levy for years. The three times in the last eight years that we’ve cut the levy, the state allows you to go back and take some of that, if you so choose,” Schoemann said.

  • “There’s major crimes back to the 1990s and in the 80s. I think it’s just the frequency is happening much more, and I think this is at the top of people’s mind right now. And as I mentioned, the sheriff’s office crime in particular is the highest concern of the county board and the community,” said Schoemann.

  • Sheriff Martin Schulteis said, “There is minimum staffing to properly serve Washington County. We haven’t kept up with the county itself.”

  • Schulteis said some changes would include eliminating some administrative positions and “really focus on boots on the ground serving citizens of Washington County.”

  • The Sheriff and county administration were not prepared with data on out-of-county bookings, crimes committed outside area. More data was promised at a later date, however the committee had to vote on the proposed referendum during its meeting July 20, 2022 as it was an action item on the agenda.

  • In past government scenarios there is a study conducted or committee formed to discuss major issues, similar to how Washington County approached the issues surrounding the Samaritan Home. There was no study or committee formed to review the Washington County Anti-Crime Plan.  Schoemann said he met with Schulteis and they discussed the issue.  The meeting July 20, 2022 was the first time it was brought before county supervisors.

  • The decision to put the referendum on the November 8, 2022, ballot must be made by the county board at its August 10, 2022, meeting as the deadline to place it on the ballot is August 15, 2022, according to Schoemann.

Thanks to inflation, tax collections are at all time highs while personal real income is dropping. Is it really necessary to permanently increase taxes now?

Here’s the thing… budgets are about priorities. If we start from the position that almost all governments are adequately, if not over, funded, then it takes an extraordinary situation to justify increasing funding even more. But here we are with the supposedly “conservative” Washington County Board casting unanimous votes to proceed with a referendum to raise taxes. Are you telling me that there isn’t any superfluous spending in the budget that couldn’t be reallocated to public safety? None? Are they taking advantage of the increasing crime and public worry about it to raise taxes?

I’ll remind the reader that the county implemented a “temporary” sales tax that has since become permanent. The bite of inflation makes that sales tax hurt even more – and pushes more money into county coffers. Local governments are awash in money. They do not have a funding problem.

Let’s hope the large board comes to its senses and does not put this on the ballot. If they do, let’s hope the voters have more sense than their supervisors and vote it down.

Washington County Extends “Temporary” Sales Tax… Again

I know that I’ve been on this for 20 years, but this is the object lesson for never believing government when they sell a tax as a “temporary” measure for some “emergency.” Come to think of it, that lesson applies to any government program.

WEST BEND — The Washington County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved keeping the county’s 0.5% sales tax in place Wednesday night.

As a reminder, I wrote this is 2006:

In 1998, Washington County was in a bit of a pickle. Several large capital improvement projects, like an expansion of the University of Wisconsin Washington County, the courthouse addition, and new Highway Department facilities, were looming and there wasn’t going to be enough tax revenue to pay for them. In the face of a crisis, the County Board did what governments always do – they raised taxes.

 

In this case, the new tax came in the form of a half penny county sales tax. They also designated part of the sales tax to be used for debt service, but that didn’t kick in until three years ago. Since 1999, the sales tax has removed over $49,400,000 from the pockets of people who choose to spend money in Washington County. Since the new sales tax was primarily for one time expenses, the County Board put in a provision that says that the County Board can vote to stop collecting the tax in 2006 – this year. If no vote is taken to stop the tax, then the tax will continue indefinitely.

Opposing Hwy W Expansion

There is another thoughtful letter to the editor in the Washington County Insider opposing the expansion of Hwy W through private property.

Also, you cannot excuse a yes vote as just “progress.”  If you do, you are not governing for the “people.”  You are just blindly following your transportation plan without thinking.  The supposed “progress” is theoretical.

Maybe more people will travel to Hartford to work and do business but no one will ever know.  There are too many factors affecting those kinds of issues.  “Progress” in this case, is not a tangible thing.  You cannot promise any real benefit.  To the families, however, it is very real.  To them, “progress” is likely a shameful and embarrassing government infringement on private property rights and the future of their farms.  The 11.4 acres is measurable, the emotional toll can be seen.

Washington County Board to Vote on HWY W Extension

There are two very thoughtful letters to the editor in the Washington County Daily News today about the potential extension of Highway W in Hartford. This is part of a larger discussion that has been happening in Washington County and throughout the country for many years – the push-pull between urban and rural interests as areas become more populated.

In this case, I don’t understand the drivers behind the extension. There seems to be a lot of cost and disruption for a very marginal benefit. I’m familiar with the roads in the area and there are, as the letters suggest, much less expensive ways to address safety concerns. So who keeps pushing for this? Why? Is there a road builder behind the scenes planning to land this contract? It keeps coming back to life, so there must be a vested interest behind it that keeps pushing.

Without a stronger argument than we have seen, this extension doesn’t make any sense.

To the editor: Our names are David and Anne Wenninger. We own a farm that has been in our family since 1883. The Wenninger family has farmed this land for 138 years. Our farming is sustainable, meeting society’s present food and textile demands, without compromising the needs of future generations.

 

Now, for the third time (it was voted down — TWICE) the county wants to put a Highway W extension through the farm, citing safety concerns at highways 175 and S and highways 175 and 83. In 22 months, since February 2019, there were two accidents at highways 175 and S; three accidents at highways 175 and 83 and none at highways 175 and W.

 

We enthusiastically support improvements at all of these intersections! Improvements (estimated at $450,000) to highways S/83/175 intersections should be the first step, NOT a $2,600,000 project, which will destroy 11.4 acres of active farmland. It is estimated that travel time will be increased by a mere 20 to 30 seconds. It will generate additional traffic issues in Allenton, near the railroad tracks.

 

We recommend instead, that both highways S and 175 and highways 83 and 175 be fixed to improve line of sight and access. Suggestions from the public have ranged from putting a roundabout in place; using four-way stop signs; or installing rumble strips. The county has steadfastly refused to consider any alternatives.

 

County Executive Josh Schoemann has consistently proclaimed a commitment to agriculture in Washington County. In his State of the County speech on April 22, he said: “As part of my campaign for County Executive, one of my themes was ‘Thriving Rural Communities.’… ‘To me, achieving the dream of ‘Thriving Rural Communities’ requires gaining a thorough and more in-depth respect for the struggles of our people in agriculture … .”

 

Although the county is temporarily awash in federal funding, we do not need to spend monies on ill-advised, huge projects. Wednesday, May 12 at 6:00 p.m. will be a historic vote for the county executive and the supervisors. Is there a sincere commitment to agriculture in Washington County?

 

Many roads in Washington County need to be resurfaced and upgraded. Let’s fix what we have, re-evaluate in the future, and save agriculture in the bargain.

 

David and Anne Wenninger

 

Hartford

And…

 

Say no to Highway W extension — again

To the editor: On Wednesday, the County Board will be asked again to consider a proposal that Highway W be extended from Highway 175 to Highway 83 – a new road through farm fields. This proposal was proposed in January 2019 and February 2019. It was defeated both times.

 

The questions have not changed: Is it fiscally responsible to spend at least $2.1M on 0.55 miles of new road when other road repair projects have been postponed? Is it fiscally responsible to use funding for the upkeep of Highway 83 for a different project? Is this new road necessary? Two parallel roads exist within one mile.

 

What about worsening daily congestion and safety concerns in Allenton due to trains?

 

What about safety concerns for slow farm vehicles? What about the loss of 11.44 acres of farmland for road development?

 

The answers remain the same.

 

In 2019, the county claimed safety concerns at the highways 175 and S intersection for why the Highway W extension was needed. The county claims now that “crashes continue.” If this was true, why didn’t the county make the safety improvements that only cost $450,000? There was funding and taxpayer support for this in 2019. If safety was the issue, this less expensive change would fix the problem.

 

In 2018, the county claimed that the Highway W extension was to “increase mobility from Hartford.” The county has the same reasoning now three years later: “the current routing of traffic is not the most efficient travel route.” s faster traffic in and out of Hartford what this is really about? This sounds more like an alternative reliever route than a safety concern.

 

Please ask county supervisors to vote no again to the Highway W extension.

 

Elaine Gehring

 

Hartford

Administrator Violated Ethics Code When She Gave Vaccine to Husband

From the Washington County Daily News. Glad to see that there is some accountability. The public deserves to know what was done… did the administrator receive a slap on the wrist or something more impactful? I don’t think she deserves to be fired, but something more significant than a letter of reprimand is warranted.

WEST BEND — On Thursday morning, the Washington County Ethics Board discussed a report on the Samaritan Health Center administrator after her husband, who was not an employee of the facility, received the COVID-19 vaccine. Chairman John Zorbini explained the matter was dealt with as a personnel issue within the county. The Human Resources Department determined a violation of the Samaritan Health Center policy occurred as members of the general public were not allowed in the facility due to COVID-19 restrictions, as well as a breach in the county’s code of ethics.

[…]

While Borek’s husband fell into the eligible age group and co-morbidity category to receive the vaccine, he was not eligible to receive one from Samaritan.

 

Zorbini had been brought into the investigation to determine if it was an ethics issue and the county took quick action.

 

“We felt at this point in time, this was more of a personnel matter,” he said.

 

Disciplinary actions the county can take toward its officials and employees can be oral or written reprimands, suspensions or dismissals. The county would not describe the specific disciplinary action in this case. Borek, however, remains the Samaritan Health Center’s administrator.

Washington County Creates Email Address for the Karens

These will be fun to read.

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Although the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and several local police departments have said they won’t be enforcing Gov. Tony Evers’ statewide mask mandate, there is a place where residents can report their concerns.

The Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department has created an email address specifically for people to report complaints related to Executive Order #82, which declared that every individual age 5 and older must wear a face covering in indoor or enclosed public spaces, other than when at home. The creation of this email, covidcomplaints@ washozwi.gov,

has led Washington County Executive Josh Schoemann to issue a statement asking residents not to further burden health department officials.

“Washington County is not enforcing the mandatory mask mandate. Sheriff (Martin) Schulteis has made this clear from his law enforcement perspective, District Attorney (Mark) Bensen has said it is extremely difficult to prove and Public Health Officer (Kirsten) Johnson has made clear that the health department does not have the time or the resources to pursue any complaints,” Schoemann said.

Johnson said the department created the email address so residents can send their concerns efficiently and added that there could be investigations in certain cases.

Washington County Reaffirms Oath

We’ll see how firm they are when the rubber hits the road, but it is good to see them on the right side of the Constitution.

WEST BEND — The Washington County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously approved 2020 Resolution 17 — Washington County Advocates the Constitutional Rights of its Citizens.

The resolution reaffirms the oath county supervisors took upon swearing in to uphold rights of Washington County residents under the U.S. Constitution.

According to the resolution, “We the People” affirms the U.S. government exists to serve the nation’s people and “We the People hold dear and sacred and challenge all those who would seek to infringe upon the rights of the people.”

[…]

“We want to make sure the oath you took on day one, that’s something you’re committed to despite what other government bodies try to do,” said Kelling. ”We are going to hold true to the Constitution. We are going to fight for it on every level at every opportunity. This is who we are. This is one of the most conservative counties in Wisconsin. Who would lead if not us?”

Washington County To Consider Becoming Sanctuary City

A few months ago, I would have yawned at something like this as just some showmanship and pandering. In our new normal, as they say, affirming our rights has become paramount. Let’s get this done!

WEST BEND — Washington County Board District 6 Supervisor and Vice Chair Denis Kelling has introduced 2020 Resolution 17 — Washington County Advocates the Constitutional Rights of Citizens on July 4. Supervisors will vote on the resolution during Wednesday’s County Board meeting.

The resolution would oppose any mandates which may interfere with an individual’s constitutional rights, including requiring residents to wear masks, enforce closures and implement fines. The resolution, which was

approved by the Executive Committee on June 17, reaffirms the oath each supervisor takes upon swearing in to the board to support the national and state constitutions.

“The government doesn’t have the right to make those types of mandates,” Kelling said. While the government can issue emergency orders, he does not agree that some measures must be mandated.

Earlier this year, Waukesha County supervisors proposed a resolution that would make it a sanctuary county for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in response to state proposals to strengthen background checks for purchasing guns. Supervisors felt these proposals violated the Second Amendment rights of citizens.

Washington County supervisors wanted to create a resolution to reaffirm the whole U.S. Constitution.

“I can’t recall any time in history where the government had a right to demand that you wear something,” said Kelling.

Washington County Considers Mandatory Furlough Program

Nobody wishes ill on our neighbors who work for government, but these kinds of things will become more necessary as the people’s ability to pay is severely retarded by Governor Evers.

April 28, 2020 – Washington Co., WI – Details are coming in slowly however it appears Washington County is looking to implement a Mandatory Furlough Program for some of its employees. The five days of furlough are tied to an upcoming fiscal impact from COVID-19 pandemic. Details regarding a projected $3 million to $5 million drop in revenue are below.

Other details according to the Public Affairs Coordinator Ethan Hollenberger:

Employees must pick five furlough days between May 7 and Dec 31. They can take one per calendar week. Paid holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, etc) are eligible as days to pick to be on furlough.  Employees will work with their supervisor to pick the days that best work for them.

Long term, I don’t think this will be enough, unfortunately, but it’s a step in a necessary direction.

On another note, this stuck out to me from another story about a local government dealing with lesser revenue:

The city’s golf courses, even after reopening this week, are expected to lose $165,200 in revenue. Gagin said he does not see a viable option for the golf courses remaining open without help from the city’s general fund.

I have complained for years that the county should not be in the business of operating a golf course. The push back I got – even from fellow conservatives – was that the golf course actually made money. True, I said, but the taxpayers are on the hook if it doesn’t. Well, here we go… and now it’s too late to sell the golf course. The buyers are drying up with the economy. There’s a good chance that the taxpayer of Washington County will be asked to cover costs at the Washington County Golf Course, abandon it, or sell it for pennies on the dollar. Let’s check back in on the budget in a few months.

 

Hartford to Reopen Despite Governor’s Unconstitutional Orders

Huzzah for the city leaders in Hartford and the Washington County Sheriff.

HARTFORD — In what Mayor Tim Michalak said could be the biggest decision ever made by the Common Council, aldermen on Tuesday night unanimously agreed to have city staff create a plan to reopen city buildings and services no later than Monday and try to gradually bring them back to normal levels.

“We want the local businesses to also know the police department will not be overtly enforcing the state ‘stay at home’ order,” Michalak said. “Our department will be enforcing criminal and traffic laws.”

City officials said local businesses could reopen after that date “at their own risk and after careful consideration and consultation with their insurance agent and with customers.” The decision comes despite Gov. Tony Evers’ recent announcement to extend the Safer at Home order and other state-imposed rules to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

[…]

“It’s time we do something. We can’t let this go on another month without opening up.”

Michalak said the city is not telling businesses to open up, but city officials are not going to kick in their door if they decide to do it and Washington County Sheriff Martin Schulteis has backed the city up in this decision.

“When it comes to the different communities he said he is going to follow ‘home rule,’ which means if they have their own Police Department he will allow that department to enforce the rules and or take action,” Michalak said. ‘We are saying we’re not going to be the boot that’s on their neck.’

The mayor said he has received numerous phone calls and emails from business owners who said they are faced with possibly closing their doors for good if the state-imposed orders are allowed to continue.

“We’re going to open the library and we’re going to open the public buildings,” Michalak said. “If we don’t do something soon to help our local

businesses we could see another depression. We need to bring freedom back to Hartford.”

Looking at The Current Washington County Administrator Contract

Here is a guest post from former Washington County Sheriff, Dale Schmidt. Here is a copy County Administrator Current Contract

As the candidates for Washington County Executive, Mr. Gitter and Mr. Schoemann, campaign using information they want you to know, voters should always seek out their own information about the candidates.  As Schoemann has been employed by county government since 2014 it may be worth reviewing the positions he has held and his current employment contract.

When he was first hired, the position was known as County Manager.   That position was part of the County pay chart at that time and probably had the same benefits as other full time employees.

By June of 2014 though, the County Board changed the position to County Administrator, still on the pay plan.  Starting in June of 2015 the Executive Committee held closed session meetings under the heading “County Administrator Contract” every month, (for 7 months) which culminated in the Board approving an employment contract for Schoemann at its December 8th meeting.

That contract was a public document made available as part of the Board’s packet of information. The contract was for two years, renewable in one year increments.  Schoemann negotiated and the Board approved wages of $126,555 in 2016, and $132,883 in 2017.  The total wages and benefits were $166,988 in 2016 and $174,223 in 2017.  (At that meeting, the Board also approved a 1% cost of living raise for all non-represented employees.  It’s unknown if 1% was then added onto Schoemann’s negotiated wages).  Schoemann also was to accrue Paid-Time-Off at the rate of a 9 year employee and the contract included performance evaluations and a retention/incentive clause.

In September of 2017, that contract was amended by the Executive Committee in a closed session meeting lasting 16 minutes.  The contract item was on the public agenda as closed session, but the proposed contract was not publicly available.  To the best of my knowledge, the contract has not been published publicly to this day.  It also was never approved by the whole County Board as the Administrator is now only required to answer to the Executive Committee.  The members who approved this contract were Supervisors Kriefall, Michalak McCune, Bulawa, Deiss, Bassill, and past Chairman Gundrum.  The contract has been released to the public through a formal record request.  It should be noted that since the County Board changed its form of government to Executive, this contract is done the day the new Executive term begins in April.

Significant bullet points of the current contract.  (Words in italics are copied from the contract):

-This is a five year contract covering years 2018 through 2022.

Administrator’s gross salary shall be set as follows: For calendar year 2018: $138,198; For calendar year 2019: $143,726; For calendar year 2020: $149,475; For calendar year 2021: $153,960; For calendar year 2022: $158,578.

Retention Incentive.  Administrator shall receive an incentive (“incentive”) accrual and payment in accordance with the following procedures and policies:  1. Accrual of Retention Incentive, Beginning in 2018 for each year Administrator is employed by County from January 1 to December 31 under this Agreement, he shall accrue a retention incentive payment, The incentive accrual amount shall be as set forth in Article IV,B.2.  2. Payment.  In January of 2018 Administrator shall receive a retention incentive payment in the amount of $10,000, On January 1 each year thereafter, Administrator shall receive a retention incentive payment in the amount accrued three (3) years prior which shall be five percent (5%) of the then gross salary budgeted and approved by the County Board.  Said payment shall be deemed income and subject to applicable withholdings in accordance with the County’s standard payroll practices, The retention incentive payment shall be made as directed by Administrator in one lump sum or in 26 installments.  (Schoemann received the $10,000 on January 1, 2018 and then on January 1, 2019 it appears he received 5% of his gross salary for 2016 which is $6327.75 and on January 1 of 2020, 5% of his salary for 2017 which is $6644.15.)

-Deferred Compensation.  Beginning January 1, 2018 and continuing for the term of this Agreement, County shall make a contribution to a deferred compensation account approved by Administrator.  The amount of the contribution for 2018 shall be $6,000’ The amount of the contribution shall increase by $3,000 per year every year thereafter during the term of this Agreement.  (Deferred Compensation is a program to invest money for retirement.  Washington County employees must use their own money to invest in this program.  This contract specifies taxpayer funds are invested for the Administrator).

Performance Bonus. Administrator shall be eligible for a performance bonus in the amount of $10,000 each year upon a satisfactory annual performance evaluation as determined by the Executive Committee.   (The Executive Committee conducted a performance evaluation on the Administrator during an October 9, 2019 closed session meeting.  The minutes reflect that Schoemann was rated a 5.  I believe the County scale is 1 to 5.)

Other income.  Beginning January 1, 2018 and every year thereafter during the term of this Agreement, per Administrator’s direction, County shall make a payment in the amount of $5,000 to a health savings account established by Administrator.   (The County puts $728 per year in individual employee HSA’s, and the employee can add their own money).

Administrator, as of January, 2018, accrues paid-time-off (“PTO”) hours consistent with fourteen (14) years of service in the PTO table for Full Time non-represented employees with administrative leave and for the duration of this agreement will earn years of service credit consistent with the PTO table.   (2018 was the Administrator’s 5th year of county employment.  Also, unused PTO can be cashed out at time of separation).

Additionally there are two lengthy sections on Removal/Resignation/Separation and Severance.  Together, they indicate the ways Schoemann could be separated from the position and what the payout would be for each.  One specific method is Change in Form of Government.  It spells out that if the County, changes to a County Executive form of government, the Severance clause is followed.  That clause essentially states the County agrees to pay Administrator a one-time lump sum cash payment equal to six (6) months of his current annual salary, and, extend paid health insurance coverage to Administrator and existing beneficiaries for six (6) months following removal.

A few thoughts… it is a shame that this is coming out less than a week before the election, but it needs to be known. This is one of the consequences of the decimation of local journalism with the rise of the internet. There was a time when it would have been someone’s job to watch local government. When a new contract like this was signed, they would have gotten a copy and reported it if anything was newsworthy. Now we are mostly relying on local citizens and a couple of small media outlets to cover the dozen or so governments just in Washington County.

The contract itself is a pretty sweetheart deal. Guaranteed raises, performance bonuses, expenses, and a separation payout clause? Sign me up! While County Administrator is an important position, I struggle to understand why the taxpayers needed to extend such a lucrative contract to attract good talent to the position.

The most egregious part of the whole deal, however, is the process. It was secretive, non-competitive, and just as you would expect the “good ol’ boy” system to work. For example, if they were going to so dramatically increase the compensation package for the role, then why not post the job to see if we had the best candidate we could get for that money? Or, if the County Manager was threatening to leave without the contract, why not let him quit and see if the county could get an equal or better resource for the money? As it is, we took the same guy and gave him a pretty substantial contract for the same work. It flies in the face of the cries of “frugal” and “broke” we get from the County leadership.

If you look at the folks who negotiated and signed this contract, they are many of the same people who have been writing letters of recommendation for Shoemann in his bid to be an elected County Executive. One wonders if they just want to keep the bodies buried when we have an independent, elected County Executive.

Election for Washington County Executive

The voters of Washington County will be choosing their first ever County Executive next week. The County Board voted last year to change the county’s form of government from a County Administrator, in which the executive function is performed by an administrator hired by the county board, to a County Executive, in which the executive function is performed by an elected County Executive who represents a separate, co-equal branch of government.

The voters are blessed with two good choices. Josh Shoemann is the current County Administrator. Adam Gitter is the Economic Development Manager for the City of West Bend. Both men are conservative. Both men are veterans. Both men are career government bureaucrats seeking their first elected office. Both are promising to hold the line on taxes and spending.

On the issues, they differ on two primary points. First, Gitter wants to rescind fees for county parks. A couple of years ago, the county implemented a fee structure for people to enter county parks. In the past, the parks did not have an entrance fee. Gitter’s argument is that the people pay taxes for the parks and should not have to pay a fee to go in them. Shoemann, who advocated for and supports the fees, says that using fees for some things helps keep taxes down. Both are right.

This is an issue on which I can go either way. Generally speaking, I don’t mind if there is a fee for things that not everyone uses. The people who use it should bear the brunt of the costs. On the other hand, we have seen where governments will implement fees and still keep raising taxes. What’s the point of fees then? Furthermore, there is a philosophical justification for the notion that we pay taxes for our county to maintain parks and that should include free and open access. Again, I’m somewhat indifferent on the issue It is an esoteric discussion that has little bearing on my life. But this is the issue that has garnered the most energy in this campaign.

The second issue on which they disagree is on the county sales tax.Washington County implemented a sales tax many years ago on an “emergency” basis to pay for some specific capital needs like a new radio system for the Sheriff. Once those things were paid off, the county kept the sales tax and now uses it for whatever they want. I have long advocated that the county should repeal the sales tax. The reason it was implemented is no longer valid and they should repeal it. If, after it is repealed, the county wants to implement a new sales tax to fund county government, then let’s have that debate. As it is, the county sales tax is the greatest bait and switch ever foisted on the people of Washington County.

On this issue, Gitter calls the sales tax a “slush fund” and has advocated repealing or reforming it. Gitter is right. Shoemann argues that the sales tax revenue has become too integral to the county’s finances and repealing it would blow a $4 million hole in the budget. Yes, it would. That has been part of the insipid nature of the sales tax revenue in that once the County Board got it, they wouldn’t let it go. There is no reason that we could not work toward the goal repealing the sales tax over time. At least Gitter wants to try and will push in the right direction.

Primarily because of the sales tax, I voted for Adam Gitter. There is a lesser reason that irks me a little too.

Shoemann has seen a wave of support from the current insiders in the county. The current county board chair, former chair, several county board members, and a couple of local politicians have come out in support of Shoemann. This makes sense and is a credit to Shoemann. In his role as County Administrator, he has worked with these people over years and earned their trust. That’s great. But there is what we used to call a “good ol’ boys” network in Washington County. In our modern nomenclature, we call it the swamp. That’s what this is. One of the reasons I advocated for a County Executive form of government was so that the county could have an elected, independent executive branch. If the executive is that tight with the board and part of the club, then what’s the point? I’m not saying that we should have open warfare between the branches of government, but the friction created by skepticism and independence is part of the balance of powers that makes for good government.

Finally on a side note, it is unfortunate that these local races have been drowned out by the presidential primaries and coronavirus. One of the fascinating things about this race that the county’s local lefty contingent has all lined up behind Gitter. As a quirk of politics, I find myself on the same side. It is curious because Gitter is an avowed conservative who has been successful in his role at the City of West Bend with conservative leadership. In reading the lefties’ writings, it looks like it comes down to two issues. First, the liberals hate park fees. As a matter of philosophy, they oppose park fees and believe that the parks should be free to everyone. Gitter agrees with that philosophy. Second, the lefties just hate Shoemann and don’t really know Gitter. It is a testament to Shoemann’s conservatism that he is so reviled by the local lefty establishment. I hope that Gitter can earn their enmity should he be elected.

All said, the voters can’t make a bad choice for county executive, but because of a couple of issues, I voted for Adam Gitter.

Former Sheriff Schmidt Weighs In On Washington County Governance

Sheriff Schmidt has some great points in this guest editorial at the Washington County Insider. Read the whole thing at WCI.

March 26, 2020 – Washington Co., WI – Recently Washington County Board Chairman Kriefall sent letters to the editor in support of the Schoemann Campaign for County Executive.  He utilized the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of why Schoemann should be elected.

My first thought was wondering why Kriefall is writing about the election instead of showing the community some leadership on the COVID-19 issue.  During a state of emergency, the Board Chair alone generally has the authority of the full County Board.  As the highest elected official in County government, shouldn’t he be talking to us?  What has he done in regards to the pandemic?  What is he considering?  How does he view the situation and does he support Governor Evers orders?

Is he concerned about the closing of businesses and restricting of our personal freedoms?  We don’t know, because the only public statement Chairman Kriefall has made recently is that we should vote for his buddy Schoemann.

I for one would like to see the elected County Board Chairman publicly acknowledge that Governor Evers orders are very restricting to Washington County residents and businesses.  Kriefall should communicate to us what he has he done on our behalf to ensure the orders are necessary.  He should explain what will need to change for the orders to be lifted or relaxed.

Something else is very concerning.  On March 13th Chairman Kriefall issued a proclamation declaring a state of emergency and the County Board affirmed that proclamation on March 19.

Broad powers and responsibilities were given to Administrator Schoemann and Chairman Kriefall.  Schoemann and Kriefall were given full authority to run County Government and the elected Board is out of the picture.  Schoemann is running a campaign for County Executive and Kriefall is his No. 1 fan.  When the only public comment Chairman Kriefall has made the past two weeks is to support Schoemann’s campaign, I question the basis being used to make decisions about the COVID-19 response.  Is it for our best interests or political interest?

How do we know?  I think we should be very attentive, and there may even be a state law that addresses the potential for conflicts of interest and abuse of power.

I’ll be honest… with everything else going on, I didn’t even know that Washington County had consolidated power in the hands of two people – one of which is running for election and the other who hired him in the first place. Beyond the concerns about abandoning representative government for the time being, the whole things has that swampy smell.

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