Thursday, December 31, 2015

Update on State of the County


As 2015 comes to an end, and the current board heads into its final months, I feel it is important to review the accomplishments of this Kewaunee County Board of Supervisors.  Keep in mind this board's term ends with the March 2016 meeting, and a new board will be sworn in at the April 2016 meeting following the spring election.

You are fortunate to have an active, engaged board, a board comprised of elected community members that really care about the welfare of the county and its citizens.  It is encouraging to attend committee meetings where these board members are prepared and engaged in the process, asking questions, and contributing overall to the process.

What are the greatest challenges for our county?
  • Ground and Surface water contamination
  • Budget shortfall caused by the closure of the Dominion Nuclear Plant
  • Restructuring of Highway Department
  • Decisions on the County Landfill
  • Restructuring of the Human services area
Following is more detail on each of those challenges:

Ground and Surface Water
A lot has been written about this over the past couple of years, but this issue continues to be an important issue in our county.  This board has been very responsive to this issue and has made significant progress to include:  
  • Passing a county ordinance changing winter spreading rules for all farmers.
  • We've added additional staff to Land and Water Conservation Department to allow them to better monitor and review Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) and to ensure adherence to NMPs and compliance with our ordinances.
  • The DNR is working with our county in an unprecedented fashion.  They have set up five committees to work directly with our County residents and board members with a goal of determining guidelines as to how to handle the overall ground and surface water issue in the county.  It is envisioned the guidelines developed here can and would be applied elsewhere in the state. 
  • The DNR allocated $80,000 for additional well testing in Kewaunee County.  This will allow for 800 wells to be tested across the county (320 wells tested this fall with another 500 being tested in the spring of 2016).  This randomized testing should provide us with results that are more conclusive than we have ever had, and will also accurately pinpoint the sources of contamination.
  • The County secured a $50,000 PSC grant which provides the County the funds to explore the feasibility of farmer cooperative on-farm hub and satellite manure treatment program.  We have just begun this process and I would like to point out, the County will not be building any digesters in the county.  The plan would call for local farmers to build and operate these digesters.  
  • We formed a Groundwater Task Force which has a goal of continuing to inform the county residents as to what is happening in regard to the groundwater and surface water in Kewaunee County.  
  • In addition to the work we have been doing with the DNR, we are also working in and unprecedented manner with NRCS and DATCP in efforts of improving our groundwater and surface water.
Dominion Nuclear Plant
Entering our second year with reduced income from the closure of the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant presented challenges with our budget for 2015, but thanks to Dominion contribution of $143,000, we were able to balance our 2015 shortfall.  Also, we were able to have utility taxes reinstated for the following 3 years that overall will contribute $855,000 to the County. 

Highway Department
For the first time in 12 years, the Highway Department has ended its 2014 year in the black, and it appears the same will hold true for 2015.  The restructuring that was completed over the past 18 months contributed to that positive result, but also the day to day management of the department has taken on the challenge and all the employees in that department are to be commended for those results.

County Landfill
Very difficult decisions have been taken regarding the landfill.  As you may recall, the Highway and Landfill Committee has been working on this problem for the past two years to find the right path for the county to take regarding landfill.  The reality of competition in all directions made our landfill a losing proposition.  The decision to close the landfill was taken.  At the current rate of fill, it will probably take close to two years to fill before we actually officially close the site.  Even then, we will more than likely experience a substantial loss when we close the landfill.

Restructuring of Human Services
With the advent of regionalized family services, our Human Services department underwent a restructuring that involved laying off a number of employees and reassigning responsibilities throughout the remaining employees.  This was a painful process as it required all department employees to be re-evaluated for the remaining positions we had left in the county.  The overall staff was reduced by seven employees. 

Legislative & State Agencies Interface
This board has engage our legislative representatives both with Assemblyman Kitchens and with Senator Lasee and his staff.  It was largely because of the interaction and relationships with these legislators and other government officials in Madison we were able to accomplish much of what we have done.  Many of the board members participated in the  Legislative Days in Madison where we carried the message to the legislators about our groundwater issues, the utility tax extension and Kewaunee Harbor restoration.

Fiscal Responsibility:
·      This board has been very responsible in managing the financial affairs for the County.  In spite of the revenue shortfalls caused by the closure of the Dominion Kewaunee Nuclear Plant, we were able to manage our budget without increasing the County taxes.  Also, we have continued to provide all the essential services without interruption.  Not only did we operate without increasing taxes, we found an additional $1,185,000 money from State and private resources that were invested in our county to include:
·               $855,000 extension of utility tax over next three years
·               Dominion financial assistance $143,000
·               DNR grant - $80,000 2015/2016 Well Testing
·               DATCP $48,000k approval of moving funds from SEG funding to Bond Dollars
·               PSC, $50,000 funding for Manure Treatment Feasibility Study

Staffing Changes and Adjustments
·         Over the past two years our staffing in the county has been reduced by 34 employees, most of these were retirements in Highway Department along with the reduction of staff in the Human Services area.  This was all done without impacting any of the services the county has been providing.  We hired a new Administrator, Scott Feldt.
      We added a new position, Director of Finance, and hired Paul Kunesh who is now generating monthly financial reports for each operating unit in the County.  For the first time, we now are able to not only track where we are financially, but to manage those areas where we may be experiencing any financial abnormalities.

·     In 2016, we will be adding a new County Tourism / Press Information Officer.  We will begin the process of a countywide initiative for tourism promotion while generating positive messaging to improve and repair our County's image.

·        We modified the overall insurance package for our County employees to bring them more in line with the general public.  For the protected employees, we just finished a union negotiation that will bring them in line with the balance of the County employees both for insurance and retirement contribution.

What we should be working on for 2016 and beyond:
  •       Develop 5 Year Financial Plan, we’ve made it through 2016 but looking forward, our  revenues will continue to decrease and expenses will continue to increase.
  •       Continue full effort to improve ground and surface water quality
  •       Maintain adequate County services to the public
  •       Continue to look for further efficiencies in the organization and other cooperative      initiatives. 
  •       With regard to the Kewaunee Harbor Project, do whatever we can at the county level to ensure we land a developer for that site.
  •       Continue to provide business loans using State of Wisconsin funds through our revolving loan fund.
  •       Highlight documented improvements to water quality in an effort to repair our image.
  •       Plan for revenue shortfalls in 2017 and beyond
  •       Assist in the success of 2017 Farm Technology Days.
  •       Find a solution to library charges from other counties.
  •       Engage with State Legislators for continued assistance at State level.
  •       Continue to ensure our government more accountable.
  •       Explore joint ventures and shared services with other municipalities both inside the county and outside the county (example, County Sheriff Dept managing Algoma PD)

Real Estate Tax Bills
 I am sure you noticed a sizeable reduction in your real estate taxes 2016.  I wish we could take credit for that, but unfortunately that is directly associated with the $452,000,000 valuation placed on the Dominion Kewaunee Nuclear Plant.  So, Dominion is, currently paying very high taxes.  I say currently as Dominion is challenging this valuation in court.  Currently the initial court date is scheduled for November 2016.  Even if it were settled at the Circuit Court level, because of the late scheduling of this challenge, you will more than likely realize the same kind of reduction of taxes in 2016.  

Now, what if Dominion prevails and the Court decides the valuation was not correct?  Carlton Township would be required to refund money to Dominion and that would trigger events that would require the County to collect those monies from the taxpayers who received a reduction of real estate taxes. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Kewaunee County "out of County" Library Costs

Perhaps you recall finding a short message in your tax bill this year that advised you of the fact that Kewaunee County has spent $190,000 over the past 3 years for library charges incurred by our county residents in out of county libraries.  There is a WI Statute 43.12 that deals with Libraries in general.  Within 43.12 are provisions allowing adjacent county libraries to invoice other counties for services they provide to adjoining counties residents providing those counties do not have a consolidated library system.

Kewaunee County does not have a consolidated library system as the libraries in Algoma and Kewaunee are operated by the cities with certain contributions from the county. So, therefore, we receive invoices annually from both Manitowoc and Brown County library systems for those services.  And, yes, we have paid nearly $190,000 over the past years for those services.  The amount of invoicing from Manitowoc is miniscule in comparison to that of Brown County and that makes sense.  We have a lot of people from Kewaunee County working and shopping in Green Bay and therefore it is convenient to use their library services.

I have been exploring the possibility of somehow avoiding to pay these fees and have not come up with any answer.  My first approach was to have individuals who are taking out books from an adjacent county library to pay for that service directly to that library.  That approach did not work as there was a law passed in 1887 that provides that every citizen in Wisconsin is entitled to "free" library services.  But we all know there is no free lunch.  We all end up paying for it one way or another.

I was able to have Brown County provide us figures on which townships are utilizing their services, and it comes as no surprise that Luxemburg Village, and Red River Township have the greatest percentage of the circulation.  Now, we could open a library in Luxemburg, but that would cost us about $280,000 per year, and unless Kewaunee County took over the management of the entire library system in our County making it a consolidated library, we'd still receive invoices from Brown County.  That idea has very little appeal for both economic and management reasons.  Both the Algoma and Kewaunee Libraries are well managed and operated by the cities.

What seems to me to be very unfair is the way we have been allocating the cost of the Brown County invoicing.  Take for instance the 2014 Brown County invoice which is represented in the table below. We were invoiced $56,000 for some 23,589 items circulated to Kewaunee County residents.  That equates to an average of $2.37 per item circulated.

What the county has been doing, per directions from the Department of Revenue (DOR) is allocating the cost of out of county library invoice by equalized value.  So, take a look at the table below.  You can see a township like Pierce with total circulation of 87 items paying $2,747.80 or $31.58 per item.  Or Ahnapee with 279 items paying $2,910.41 or $10.43 per item.  Now have a look at the village of Luxemburg.  They had 7,552 circulated items to their residents and ended up paying $0.67 per item.

Now using those three same townships with services allocated by percentage of use versus distribution by equalized value, the numbers would be significantly different.  Pierce Township with .037% of the use would be paying $206.54, Ahnapee Township with 1.18% would be paying $662.34  and Luxemburg Village with 32.01% of the use would be paying $17,928.36.

After looking into this with the DOR and Department of Public Instruction (DPI) it seems there just might be some room to change the way this is allocated.  If we cannot change this allocation within the current rules, I believe it is time to go to the legislature to see if they can change the rules allowing a more equitable distribution of these charges.