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September 15, 2019

7/23/2019 7:30:00 AM
Vilas County finance committee OKs Northwoods Transit Connection's request to borrow funds to purchase buses
Abigail Bostwick
Of The Lakeland Times

Northwoods Transit Connections is one step closer to purchasing four new buses.

Last Thursday morning, the Vilas County Finance Committee unanimously agreed to forward to the full county board a resolution supporting short-term borrowing of about $192,000 to the commission.

"The way the DOT (Wisconsin Department of Transportation) grant works is that we don't get the funds until we have the receipt for the buses," explained Erv Teichmiller, Vilas County board member and chair of the Oneida-Vilas Transit Commission which oversees Northwoods Transit Connections. "We need the receipt for the buses."

This is the second time the Oneida and Vilas County Transit Commission has requested a short-term loan from the county due to the state grant repayment process, Teichmiller said. The first time, all funds were repaid within 28 days, he said.

Each bus, certified handicap-accessible with a lift, is anticipated to cost around $60,000 each.

The current bus fleet has high mileage and requires expensive maintenance, Teichmiller added.

"We inherited a bunch of old buses," he said. "We've retired some ... we'll retire some more. These buses cost us a lot of money."

As part of the grant, the commission has to raise 20 percent.

"We've done that," Teichmiller confirmed. "The bank said they will grant the loan as it stands with permission from the county board."

Vilas County holds no liability on the loan. The Oneida County Board of Supervisors already approved a resolution supporting the matter, which will cover any interest incurred by the loan period.

The commission receives money from state and federal match grants as well as contracts from one private and several non-profit area organizations and fees. Both Oneida and Vilas counties made a one-time contribution when the transit service was started approximately four years ago.

"Vilas County has grown as the transit commission has grown," county board and committee chair Ron DeBruyne observed. "This is a joint venture between counties ... if Oneida County is good with it, I'm good with it."

The vote had no opposition in approval.

Buses are not all stored inside - a winter shelter is an issue the commission hopes to address in about a year when it can apply for a federal building grant, Teichmiller noted.

"This is an extremely valuable thing to the community," committee member Ron Kressin said.

Teichmiller also indicated the commission's first-ever audit is complete, with a report expected by Aug. 14.



Other news

In other matters, the finance committee:

• Heard preliminary 2020 budget information. Departments are currently polishing their individual early budgets for the finance department, noted Jason Hilger, finance director.

"Lots of budgets have been turned in," Hilger relayed. "I'm starting to put together a reasonable working document."

That document is expected to be reviewed by the finance committee next month.

"Do we anticipate salary increases?" supervisor Vernon Wiggenhauser asked.

"We do, but those are not included in preliminary budgets," Hilger explained.

Wage increases are anticipated to be explored next month by departments.

DeBruyne noted the finance committee and county board will spend the next several meetings going over the upcoming budget. "This county board meeting ... will be interesting," he said. "As will the next few ... each department has its wants, wants, wants. But wants are very different than needs ... wants are a pipe dream compared to the needs."

DeBruyne said some raises for employees are a good thing and possible, should budgets come in as needed. He added if the county has more funds than anticipated they can be shared with those employees.

"I don't know we've cut budgets, but we've kept them from growing by leaps and bounds," he added.

Vilas County maintains one of the lowest mil rates statewide, Hilger has reported.

• Met the county's new human resources manager Kip Kippling.

The next finance committee meeting will be at 11 a.m. Aug. 15 at the courthouse.





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