Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Are You Ready for More Taxes in Kewaunee County?

Your Kewaunee County Finance Committee led by Lee Luft is on a path that will substantially increase taxes and impose new fees for Kewaunee County Taxpayers. According to projections produced by Luft, the County Administrator, Scott Feld and Finance Director, Paul Kunesh, - even with their proposed tax increases - the county would still experience an operating capital shortfall in five years.  There is one Supervisor on that committee, Chris Rasmussen, that is in opposition and is demanding all options to reduce spending are considered first.

Following is a list of Revenue Generation Items that are being considered by Lee Luft’s Finance Committee for implementation:
  • 1/2% Kewaunee County Sales Tax (without going to referendum)
  • Referendum to Exceed the Tax Levy Limit(supposedly off the table now)
  • Wheel Tax (up to $20 per vehicle) (supposedly off the table now)
  • Overweight Vehicle Fee
  • Other fees being considered;
    • All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Park Fees
    • Animal Waste Storage Unit Inspection Fees
    • Agriculture Land Inspection Fee
    • Private Well Registration & Inspection Fees
    •  Manure Spill Response Fee
    • Increased fines for Winter Spreading Ordinance
Lee Luft, along with County Administrator Mr. Feldt, have been out presenting expense-heavy financial forecasts to Town Boards overstating the case; educating them, and soliciting their support for these tax increases and new fees.  In those presentations, Luft is saying all spending cut opportunities at the county have been explored and completed; there is no room for additional reduction in spending.  That simply is not the case. At the same time, he is saying that the numbers he is projecting shows the county will still have a revenue problem in five years, even after implementing his new taxes. WE DO NOT HAVE A REVENUE PROBLEM, WE HAVE A SPENDING PROBLEM!  AS WE ALL KNOW, GIVE ANY GOVERNMENT ENTITY MONEY AND THEY WILL SPEND ALL OF IT AND MORE!

This is the way the process works. The finance committee under Luft’s leadership is charged with providing a resolution for the financial budgeting direction for the county.  That committee will pass a motion, or a series of motions, for the tax increase resolution(s) that would go to the full board for approval.  You, the individual taxpayers, must get involved in this process. The numbers are complex, but they are forecasting expenses to grow by $4.0M from 2016-2021, while revenues from taxes (without the newly added fees and taxes) only grow by $1.1M.  When expenses outpace income by almost $3M annually, the proceeds from all of their new fees and taxes get swallowed up quickly leaving us in the same boat we are in right now in five short years.  Then what? 

Kewaunee County has about 20,400 total people, and they aren’t all taxpayers! The County simply cannot afford some of the services other counties provide.  I have asked for a list of services the county must provide by law, but never received it.  Assuming the county puts that list together, one could then assess which services are being provided beyond those required, and complete an analysis upon which services could be eliminated that would reduce expenses.

A few short months ago, it appeared the shortfall for operation in budget year 2017 was approximately $700,000. Now according to new projections put together by Luft and the Administrator, that shortfall has grown to $1,047,408 - an additional $300K!  Really?  One can only conclude the numbers have been fudged a bit to bolster Luft’s position on the imposition of new taxes and fees.

Keep in mind, Luft’s ultimate goal is to have enough money in the budget so eventually he can add additional enforcement staff in the Soil Conservation Group.  That staff would monitor farm practices relating to manure application.  Luft has wanted to follow Door County and their implementation of Chapter 23.  Chapter 23 is an onerous, heavy handed, ordinance that provides the county a free hand in fining farmers for infractions whatever they might be regarding manure application.  In Door County, this ordinance has, driven many farmers out of business.

Kewaunee County Residents are already highly taxed. Not only does the county want to zap you with additional taxes, but keep in mind Luxemburg-Casco School District is considering a referendum for $25M in school improvements and updates of which $17M would need to go on referendum.  Kewaunee School District just passed a $6.8M referendum and Algoma a $3.6M referendum.  For the most part, this money is earmarked for updating the mechanical infrastructure of the schools and for improving the sports venues at the schools. At the same time, the school districts are competing for enrollment. Algoma even has a billboard along Hwy 42, touting the virtues of their school system. The reality is the population of the County is not growing, nor is student enrollment. Additionally, we have an aging population living on a fixed income and most cannot afford higher taxes.

Be cautious as to what you read in the Kewaunee Star News
Karen Yancey Ebert, the Kewaunee Star "Ace Reporter" gets most of her information on Kewaunee County business from Luft. Although Luft claims he is not a member of the Kewaunee Cares group, he attends their meetings, espouses their doctrine and follows their lead.  Karen Yancey is biased in her reporting.  She is an environmentalist and has a long history of affiliation with environmental groups as outlined below. 

Luft often misrepresents both financial projections as well as any information concerning the County water issues. He often spouts numbers that are not verified or are just outright incorrect.  For example, a week or so ago, Luft stood up at a meeting and said, “Kewaunee County has 100,000 dairy cows.”  The statement is not true, but he says it anyway. He also has reported over and over that 30% of wells in Kewaunee County are contaminated. This also is not true, but he knows if you report untruths repeatedly, they soon become fact.
So you can understand, if Reporter Yancey is getting her info from Luft, and she does not verify the information, the story you read in the Kewaunee Star is usually incorrect or so grossly slanted and biased that it is quite often not factual.

Ms Yancey is an environmentalist so being objective is a problem for her.  The following information has been copied from Ms. Yancey’s LinkedIn account:

Board member, Chairman of Washington Island Project Committee.

Door County Land Trust

June 2000 – Present (16 years 2 months) Environment
I initiated a committee on Washington Island, Wisconsin, to protect open space and was then asked to serve on the Door County Land Trust board. During my 14 years of volunteer work for the land trust, we have protected almost 1,000 acres on the island and I have organized and participated in many capital campaigns, fund-raising events and land stewardship projects. For a decade (from 2000-2010), I chaired a committee of 10 people on the island with the goal of protecting important natural areas. I also co-edited, and obtained a grant to publish a book with renowned regional writer Norbert Blei on 20 special places in Door County. In 2008, I received the land trust's highest volunteer award for my work, 2008 Door County Land Trust Distinguished Service Award.  (This is where Ms. Yancey made the acquaintance with Lynn and Nancy Utesch.  They lived on Washington Island and were part of the same organization.)

Board member
Citizens for Conservation
June 1993 – February 1999 (5 years 9 months) Environment
I served on the board of directors of this conservation organization from 1993-1999. I helped organize special events, co-chaired the educational committee and participated in stewardship projects. In conjunction with this role, I also served as a Nature Lady for Barrington schools and took third-grade classes on tours of native prairies. I continue to serve as a consultant for the organization on land protection projects.
Your Involvement is crucial
It will take courage for this board to face the spending problem head-on.  They need your encouragement and input.  Let them hear from you.  If you are not keen on the ideas of the additional taxes and fees, those folks on the Finance Committee need to hear from you right now.
BTW, something else that will be rearing its ugly head shortly is the Kewaunee County Jail project.  Sheriff Joski is prepping the Law Enforcement Committee now for the building of a new jail facility that will cost the County an estimated $15-$20 Million.  Do we really need a jail?  Perhaps we do, but the bigger question is can we afford it?  What about increased staffing and maintenance costs? Could we, or should we be working right now with Brown County on a partnership as they are completing their analysis on expanding their jail facility at this time?

Ron Heuer
Kewaunee County Taxpayer