Thursday, January 4, 2018


It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about Kewaunee County, but given developments of late, I feel compelled to do just that.  As many of you know, I served as a member on the County Board from 2012 -14, and 2014-16 as Chairman/Member. 

I am a true conservative who was, and still am, laser focused on watching out for the interest of the taxpayers of the County, without impinging the County’s ability to deliver services.  I do not obfuscate facts or sugar-coat anything.  I tell it like it is, like it or not.  I was not, am not, and will not become a politician.  

When I was elected to the board in 2012, I found the board had no leadership.  Bob Weidner was the Chairman and had been for the prior 8 years.  For 45 years I had senior management experience in running large privately held companies or managing large divisions for publicly traded companies.  Rather than using my experience for the benefit of the County, Weidner appointed me to one committee (Health/Vets/Child Support), a committee that has little or no impact on the budget one way or the other.  Weidner’s rationale was: “The board members who had seniority had the right to be appointed to the major committees of finance, highway, law enforcement, etc.”

What we had the tail wagging the dog!  As the Chairman of the Board, Weidner failed to lead.  This opened the door for the Administrator, Mr. Dorner, to do as he pleased.  He ran the County, and in fairness to him and given the personnel assets he had at that time he, did a fair job.  Where he failed, in my opinion, was trying to do everything by himself, including finance, and also not making radical management changes in two divisions that cost the County large losses.  So, during my first two years on the board, I listened, learned and pressured for change.  In the spring of 2014 after being elected as Chairman by the board we began to change the way business was transacted in the County.  We enacted many changes that benefitted the taxpayer without affecting the services the County was charged to deliver.

I bring this brief history up because now, December 2017, we are right back where we were in 2012, with the tail wagging the dog!  We have a strong, capable Administrator (Scott Feldt) with weak leadership on the board (Weidner), so the leadership vacuum is once again being filled by the Administrator.  This is NOT the way the county should be run.

I am sure by now you have received your property tax bill from Kewaunee County, along with the “CAREFULLY” crafted letter written by the Finance Committee Chairman Lee Luft with implied input to that letter from Chairman Robert Weidner and the County Administrator Scott Feldt.  (I HAVE PLACED A COPY OF THAT LETTER AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE)

I want to elaborate a bit on Supervisor Lee Luft.  Luft has a penchant for not telling the truth. He bends facts to fit his narrative, and he is a mouthpiece for the Kewaunee Cares group.  With Luft on the board, he has the visibility to reach out to various media venues, newspapers, radio, television, etc.  So he could represent the Kewaunee Cares group position on groundwater issues. 

Early on in the groundwater story, whenever the Milwaukee Journal environmental writer, Lee Bergquist, wrote articles about Kewaunee County water quality, Bergquist would reach out to Luft.  Luft consistently reported to Bergquist and other media outlets the following statement: “30% of Kewaunee County wells were contaminated.” 

Luft knew full well that was wrong.  And why?  Because the fact was, at that point in time, 30% of wells that were tested had been found to be contaminated.  I called out Bergquist on this directly when his article appeared in the Milwaukee Journal.  He confirmed the information he reported was provided by Luft. I demanded a retraction from the Journal and received it, but the damage to our county and our property values was already done.  Other news organizations published this story with incorrect information further damaging the County’s image.  I now refer to Luft as “Lyin Lee!” 

Let me explain why this is so important.  The County has some 4,752 wells.  From 2004-14 only 620 of those wells had been tested, with 30% (or 180 wells) contaminated with nitrates or bacteria.  BTW, since these numbers were released it was later found that nearly 50% of those wells were contaminated with either animal or human feces or a combination of those bacteria.  What Luft was representing would have translated to (4752 x 30%) 1,425 wells “contaminated.”   Do you not find it irresponsible for a member of the County Board to be misrepresenting information to news organizations that are very willing to print articles that are destructive to the welfare of our County without any fact checking?

Luft is not to be trusted; he is a surrogate for the Kewaunee Cares entity and is quite consistent with bending the truth.  He will put his arm around your shoulder and say “I agree with you on an issue” while he is sticking a knife in your back.  One other issue surrounding Luft is that he is focused on increasing taxes and fees in the County with little or no focus on tax reduction.  Be aware, Luft has his eyes set on the Chairman position for the Kewaunee County Board.  I will be updating you on the board election process in the next week or so.

So it should come as no surprise that Luft (rather than the Board Chairman) included in your tax bill his explanation of the property tax scenario.  As usual for Luft, he has not been totally honest and forthright in his reporting.  Because of that, I feel compelled to inform the taxpayers as to the truth!  Why is the Board Chairman Weidner not taking the lead on this?  Quite simply, he is not a leader; he wouldn’t want to take the chance of reporting anything that he might be held accountable for as that might impact his chances of being the Board Chairman once again.  Have you noticed in life; people that don’t do anything or accomplish anything don’t worry about being held accountable or criticized?

So I would like to point out a few omissions and half-truths as they appear in the letter presented by the Finance Chairman Luft.

Under – Why is the Kew Co. portion of my property tax bill higher this year than in 2015 and 2016?
Fundamentally correct in presentation, however there was no detail to explain how, or why, those taxpayers in the Kewaunee School District, (with exception of the folks in Carlton Township) experienced an abnormally large increase in their taxes.  Finance Chair Luft would say: “Not my job.  That is a Kewaunee School District job to tell their story.”  In as much as this was part of the Dominion settlement, it should have been covered in the letter.
For example, I live in West Kewaunee Township and my taxes went up $1,817 over last year.  I anticipated my taxes would be going back up after the Dominion settlement so I wasn’t that shocked with the increase as it brought my taxes back to the levels prior to the Carlton/Dominion lawsuit debacle.

So, the reason Kewaunee School District taxpayers, (with exception of Carlton Township), were hit with a large increase is that during the past two years while the assessed value of the Dominion plant was in the $460 million plus or minus, Dominion was paying an extraordinary amount of taxes in the County.  The State of WI DOR (Department of Revenue) has a school tax levy formula that considers a running three-year period.  So, when the numbers were plugged into the formula, Carlton received a pass on the increase because of the Dominion payments the previous two years.  The balance of the Kewaunee School District bore the brunt of the school taxes.  Because this formula considers a three-year running period, next year 2018/2019 Carlton will again receive a favorable tax, but in the 2019/2020 year, Carlton taxes will be at par with the balance of the taxpayers in the Kewaunee School District. 

Under – Taxpayer Questions
Is my property tax rate also going up because of increased spending by Kewaunee County?
His answer was: “No.”  I don’t know about you, but wouldn’t you call an additional $417,565 salary/wage 2018 budget spend an increase?   This salary/wage increase was for regular employees (this excludes temporary employees, contracted, per diem and overtime).  The breakdown of the $417,565 is: $120,199 for cost of living increase, $149,782 salaries for added positions, and $147,584 were salary increases per the step plan.  BTW, about 15 employees received merit increases and those increases are included in the $147K number.  No doubt a few of these employees did deserve an increase, but 8 of the employees were with the County for less than 3 years.  

On the cover letter to the 2017/2018 County Budget, the Administrator Feldt has a table that displays comparisons 2017/2018 budgets.  In that table the expenditures are increased by $2,622,582 year over year.  The tax levy is increased by $458,932 year over year.  Granted, when it comes to expenditures there are items that are controlled by the State and Federal governments the County has little control.  I point this out to further clarify that Luft has a problem with the truth.  He knows full-well that the average citizen won’t take the time to delve into these issues.

One of the salary increases granted by the board was for the Administrator, Scott Feldt.  This was clearly out of bounds.  Why the board bought into approving a two step, $10,442 salary increase for the Administrator is unexplainable.  The Board Chairman, Weidner, and the Finance Chairman, Lyin’ Lee, were big supporters of this increase and they both urged other board members to support the increase.

When the Administrator was hired in Feb 2018, he had not only the Administrative responsibilities, but he also had the Finance responsibilities.  Remember, Ed Dorner was paid $88,000 and handled both functions.  That was not working for the county, so we hired Paul Kunesh as Director of Finance and added $79,000 to our budget at that time.  Yes, it is the responsibility of the Administrator to manage the Finance department, however, we hired a very experienced, capable person in that department who has proven he can do the job.  This move essentially removed about 34% of the Administrators job.  The County also added a new position of Tourism/PIO which removed another responsibility from the Administrator’s plate.

Part of the responsibility assigned to the new Administrator Feldt was for him to develop a compensation plan for the county employees.  He accomplished that in 2016 and put in place a plan that considers longevity, a plan that included step increases for employees.  The step pay plan was designed to incrementally increase employee’s pay through the salary ranges related to their job titles and considered one step per year of employment. 

Now in the fall of 2017 it was proposed to increase Feldt’s salary to $103,771 which would have represented a 3 step increase in one year, an 8.9% increase of  $11,565.  What are these board members thinking?  Keep in mind, most counties in Wisconsin the size of Kewaunee County are operating their counties with “Coordinators,” not Administrators, and Coordinators are paid anywhere from $65K to $80K annually.  At the end of the day the two step, $10,442 annual increase was approved for the Administrator by the board.  The question every taxpayer should be asking is: “Why?”  What were you thinking?  BTW, the Administrator salary study that was used by the Personnel Committee to approve this salary was completed by; you guessed it, the Administrator!

Note:  All 5 of the elected officials; Jamie Annoye, County Clerk, Michelle Dax, County Treasurer, Matt Joski, County Sheriff, Rebecca Deterville, Clerk of Circuit Court, and Germaine Bertrand, Register of Deeds all deemed the issue of the Administrator’s salary increase to be out of bounds with the step policy that was put in place by the Administrator.  They also pointed out this salary increase action would set a precedence that would be difficult to manage, and the action was unfair to taxpayers.  They each submitted letters to the entire county board prior to any action by the board on this issue.  The Board members were largely mum on the issue. 

It was only after both the Personnel Committee and the Board approved the increase, that the Personnel Committee Chairman, Weidner met with these elected officials.  He expressed his disappointment that these elected officials had issued these letters.  He interpreted the letters to be an attack on the Board.  He listened to the concerns of the elected officials and then pivoted to what ideas these people would have to create harmony in the organization.

The next question would be:”Why didn’t the board reduce the taxes to the taxpayer with the additional money received from Dominion and the sales tax that was imposed?”  Well, this gets a bit dicey. 

The sales tax was established in May of 2017 and is averaging about $90K per month.  For the following 2017/18 budget year the county is budgeting over $1M in sales tax revenue.  Remember, ostensibly, the sales tax was enacted by the county to replace revenue lost from Dominion. So, now on top of the sales tax income, Dominion agrees to give  $485,468.37 per year to Kewaunee County for the next 10 years.  So, the county could have said, let’s provide some relief for the taxpayer and give them the $1.5M back in tax relief. 

Initially it was communicated by the Administrator that Dominion required that the first two years of Dominion payments of $485K each or $970K to be placed in an economic development fund for the County.  When the Administrator was pressed to provide written proof of that claim, the story changed to: “Dominion asked the county if they would place the money into this economic development fund.”  Dominion had no authority to place any demand on the county as to what the county did with these funds.  I confirmed that in a telephone call with Paul Briggs of Dominion.  Quite frankly, Dominion didn’t have to give the county a cent, so we should be thankful for what they have allocated to the County. 

So, once again, Lyin’ Lee and the Board Chairman jump on the idea of holding two years of Dominion funds in some account tagged for economic development.  There is an ulterior motive here I believe. 

There are a number of outlying expenses the county is facing that haven’t really been talked about much and have been kept in the background.  Here is as short list of those:
  • The landfill owes Kewaunee County $600,000 from a loan taken years ago from the county when they were developing some landfill cells.  That money will have to be paid back to the general fund of the county.
  • As the accounting for landfill closure trust account and costs are currently calculated; there may be a $20K or more shortfall in that account.
  • As of December 2017, the Long Term Care (LTC) Trust account has a balance of $1.725M.  As of 2007 the DNR required an LTC balance at closing of $2.322M.  In the event DNR does not adjust that number there will be another $580,000 required to balance that account.
  • The county has a negative $804,000 in the Human Services area.  Somehow the county has to fill/balance that account.
  • The County received a fine from the State of $147,698 for improper billing in the Human Services area.  This will need to be paid out as well.

So, you can see, there will be a shortfall of an estimated $2.1M that will need to be covered.  My guess is that setting aside the first $1M from Dominion provides a little financial cushion to draw down and partially settle these outstanding negatives.

There are a couple of other inaccuracies and obfuscations in Luft’s letter.  Luft’s claim they have been responsible in lowering costs is incorrect.  He indicates the county over the past 4 years has reduced the staffing from 176 to 146 and the cost of insurance was reduced. 

Let me set the record straight.  The reductions in both insurance and employee head count occurred while I was chairman, not under this administration.  That was two years ago.  Here are the actual headcounts of County employees by year: 2013 – 176 / 2014 – 163 / 2015 – 149 / 2016 –144.5 / 2017 – 147 / 2018 –146.  Notice in 2016 we were at 144.5 employees and now we are at 146.  So, his claim for reduction of salary costs over the past two years is bogus. 

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