Thursday, October 15, 2015

It’s Budget Time at the County

We are in the midst of the budgeting process right now in the County and like every year, there are challenges and changes.  Emotions run high throughout the County organization as the budget sets the course the County will be pursuing.  And as emotions run high, sometimes issues are misinterpreted and misconstrued.  I would like to dispel one myth that is circulating, i.e., Kewaunee County is no longer going to fund KCEDC (Kewaunee County Economic Development Corporation).  That is false.  Here is the history of KCEDC from the County Board minutes perspective.

First, KCEDC is a separate 501C organization that Kewaunee County does not control.  We are only a cash contributor to the organization.  They have their own board of directors and leadership.  Kewaunee County does not direct KCEDC, nor does KCEDC report to the County, but we do have a position on their board, currently is filled by Supervisor Gary Paape from Ahnapee Township. 

In 2004, the County passed a resolution that funded $50,000 to the KCEDC to get the organization started.  That initial funding was intended to be our total commitment.  No additional funding going forward, however, that is not what happened.  After the initial funding of $50K in 2004, the county continued to fund KCEDC.  Kewaunee County is the largest contributor to KCDEC and the balance of their operating budget is made up from donations from the municipalities and private corporations.

From 2005 through 2014, the County continued funding KCEDC at the rate of $40K per year.  For the budget year 2015, the County reduced the funding to $30K and for the 2016 fiscal year the County intends funding at $30K.  So all in, from 2004 through 2016 the County will have invested $510,000 into KCEDC.

So, the question is, why is the County reducing their spending on KCEDC?  Quite simply, in as much as the county will be taking direct control over the tourism marketing aspects for the county, KCEDC will be doing less work.  In the 2015 budget we took the $10K we had not provided to KCEDC and intended to spend that money on origination market advertising to drive business to Kewaunee County.  We asked KCEDC if they would place those ads and they chose not to do that.  KCEDC made it clear, that rather than focusing on tourism efforts, they would rather focus on the commercial aspects of the county which includes assisting existing businesses with their growth and working to retain businesses that are already operating. 

In the end, given our dismal financial projections, we did not spend that $10K and it remained in our general fund.  Now the KCEDC has submitted invoices to the county for a marketing study they chose to complete, a study the county never approved.  Going forward to 2016, the county will add a PIO/Tourism (Public Information Officer) person to our staff in order to focus on rebuilding our county image and pulling together our county tourism assets (see below for more details).

Why does our county image need repair?
Did you read the Star-News Saturday, October 3, 2015 issue?  If you did, you saw, one more time, the same negative coverage of our county (3 pages out of an 8 page section) that we have seen way too often.  Seems like every week we have the same reporter, reporting the same story about how CAFOs are fouling creeks, waterways and wells.

This continued negative coverage of our county is having an effect on all of us.  In that same Oct 3 article, an individual claimed they cannot sell their home because of its proximity to a CAFO.  Well, I received a call a few weeks ago from a real estate agent who lost two real estate sales as a result of the buyer having read the continuous barrage of these negative reports.  These negative stories not only negatively impact real estate values, but also have impact on visitation/tourism to our County’s restaurants, retail shops and other touristic venues.
Yes, the environmentalists have brought the issue to the forefront, no doubt about that.  Now we have to work to fix the problems without further damaging the community.  The esteemed Star-News reporter could have reported on the unprecedented cooperation Kewaunee County is getting from the DNR, DATCP, NRCS and USDA, but chose instead to continue to regurgitate the same story we have read over and over and over.  Is that really good reporting?   I believe it is not.  A news organization should be balanced in their reporting.  I’m not sure we are getting that from Gannett and Star-News.

Just Google “Kewaunee County” and, you will see that we are well-known for our polluted water.  These news stories are online, and are picked up across our state and beyond.  I recently attended a Wisconsin Counties Association meeting in La Crosse, Wisconsin and no less than four other county board chairman approached me and said words to this effect: “I am sure glad I’m not in your shoes with all the bad publicity on your polluted water.”  

County Response on bad press
From the County’s perspective, we can do one of two things.  Continue to sit back and allow the image of our County to be further tarnished, or take a proactive approach in an attempt to change the tide of bad press.  We are encouraging our Board to do the latter by adding a person to the County Staff who will act as both PIO (Public Information Officer) and County Tourism Coordinator.

We have an opportunity to grow our tourism going forward, but it is not going to happen without a concentrated effort to pull all County tourism assets and activities together at some point.  Initially, the PIO/Tourism Coordinator will be charged with getting no less than two positive press releases out per week on Kewaunee County.  There are plenty of positive things going on in our county; they just aren’t being reported.

One other budget highlight
Our County now has 142 employees, down by 34 employees from 176 in April of 2013.  The reductions of employees came as a result of changes in the way the county is conducting business and through general restructuring.  For example, in Human Services, we were able to reduce our workforce by 7 employees as a result of a state regionalized Family Care initiative.  In the highway department we reduced the number of employees from 39 in 2013 to 27.5 in the 2016 budget.  This was achieved largely as a result of good resource management by our new Commissioner, Todd Every.  Additionally, we gained efficiencies in the administration and as several townships contracted with private companies for snow removal, we required fewer people.

We have, department by department, pushed for more efficiencies.  As a result of more focused management we are providing the same services with fewer employees. To that point, in our 2016 budget we have proposed a 1.5% one-time wage supplement for our employees.  We have asked a lot of our employees.  In 2013 and 2014 they had a 0% increase in salary.  In 2015 they received a 1% increase in salary.  But at the same time we have twice increased the employee cost of health insurance.  I am hopeful the full Board can get behind this initiative.

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