|11/15/2012 7:30:00 AM|
Board approves 2013 county
Levy decreases over $50,000, mill rate goes up
The Oneida County Board of Supervisors approved the county's 2013 budget Tuesday.
The tax levy for 2013 will be $14,951,089, compared to $15,002,689 for 2012.
The mill rate for 2013 will be $2.23 per $1,000 of equalized value compared to $2.16 per $1,000 in 2012.
Before the final levy was approved, the board reversed three decisions made during the Administration Committee's budget hearings last month.
The board decided against reducing the Tourism Council's budget allotment, cutting the 4H-Youth Development Agent position to part-time, and defunding the Oneida County Dive Team. It also decided to continue the county's participation in the North Central Regional Planning Commission.
All of the money added to the budget as a result of the reversals was offset by $305,000 to be taken from the general fund. The county had already planned on using $250,000 from the general fund and added $55,000 to that amount to cover the additional costs incurred as a result of the three reversals.
The board said that it would use the general fund to pay for those items this year, but other funding sources must be found in 2014.
The Tourism Council approached the Administration Committee last month requesting a 2013 budget of $100,000, up $15,000 from its 2012 budget but in line with what it had received in its early years of existence.
The Administration Committee discussed the matter and decided to recommend the council's budget for 2013 be the same as its 2012 budget, $85,000.
A number of people spoke Tuesday in favor of restoring the council's funding to $100,000.
"I would like to point out to everyone that tourism affects Oneida County's quality of life in many ways, but economically is probably at the top and is the one that (the board) is most concerned with today," Kari Zambon, council member and part-owner of Holiday Acres, said. "Tourism supports many businesses and services that other counties with similar populations cannot attract or support ... and I think the tourism council has been very, very responsibly allocating the funds that have been sent to us by the county board to promote and continue to bring Oneida County's name forward as a top destination for tourists."
Kim Baltus, the executive director of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce, also discussed the importance of the council's work as a moneymaker for the county.
"I think this is a really telling statistic: for every dollar spent on advertising in Wisconsin, we receive $6 back from state and local taxes from additional traveler spending. That is a huge percentage," Baltus said.
Board and council member Romelle Vandervest also spoke in favor of granting the council its full funding request.
"I've been on (the council) almost since its inception and we work very, very hard to make money for this county and I think they're doing a great job. It's worth it," Vandervest said.
Supervisor Jerry Shidell spoke out against giving the council the extra $15,000, arguing the group did just fine with its 2012 budget amount.
"I'm not going to slight the jobs being done by (the council), that's to be commended ... but keep in mind one thing: they did it all on the $85,000 that they had (in 2012). All we're asking them to do is to deal with the $85,000 again (in 2013)," Shidell said.
The motion to increase the council's budget to $100,000 was approved with Supervisors Shidell, Sonny Paszak, and Denny Thompson providing the dissenting votes.
4H/Youth Development Agent
During the initial budget hearings, the Administration Committee recommended reducing the UW-Extension's 4H/Youth Development Agent to a 50 percent position.
The move would have cut $17,000 from the Extension budget.
But, as with the Tourism Council discussion, many came forward Tuesday to urge the county board to ignore that recommendation and keep the position full-time.
"The role of the 4H/Youth Development Agent in Oneida County is to help identify the needs of area youth, coordinate the individuals who are already doing those services, and enhance our youth programming in ways that other people aren't able or are not going to be interested in doing," said Erica Brewster, Family Living Agent and Department Head for UW-Extension Oneida County. "If we reduce this position, $25,000 will be further lost from state funding so it's a $17,000 savings with a $25,000 loss to the county."
The position is currently vacant due to the recent retirement of Jim Winkler, though Winkler is still passionate about the position and its importance to the county. He showed that passion in his remarks to the board.
"(Oneida County) needs a good person in here with positive youth development experience to assess the community and the needs of the young people, to look at the research, and help develop programming to meet those needs," Winkler said.
Board members also spoke out in favor of keeping the position at 100 percent.
"My daughter was very involved in the youth development program and it was absolutely wonderful for her. It developed leadership skills ... and I think it's a minimal amount compared to (the importance of the program)," Candy Sorensen said.
Tom Rudolph echoed those sentiments.
"We need to continue to invest in our youth for the future of this county," Rudolph said.
Gary Baier agreed that youth development is incredibly important to the county but argued there are other ways to accomplish those goals.
"One of the problems I have with this is I think there are other ways we can do some of this. We have a YMCA here, we have a lot of schools, and maybe we should take this money and forward it on to places like the YMCA and the schools that want to participate and let them run that program," Baier said.
In the end, the motion to make the agent position whole again passed with Baier, Shidell, and Paszak casting the dissenting votes.
Oneida County Dive Team
Another recommendation made by the Administration Committee was to defund the Oneida County Dive Team and save $23,000.
On Tuesday, the county's top law enforcement officers made it clear the dive team is necessary.
"This is a very small amount of money. Sheriff (Jeff) Hoffman does not support, in any way, these funds being reduced from our budget," Chief Deputy John Sweeney said.
Many board members also spoke out in favor of the team.
"Very seldom do I hear from my constituents on anything that we're doing up here, but I've heard a lot on this one ... and this seems to be one of those things that is needed for the county so I will support it," Jack Sorensen said.
Dave Hintz, who is the chairman of the Administration Committee, endorsed the cut in the beginning but said he also heard from his constituents and they changed his mind.
"It seemed like a good idea to cut the dive team when we discussed it but like (Sorensen), I did receive a number of phone calls ... and they convinced me that the dive team is appropriate as something that should be funded by the county," Hintz said.
Paul Dean, a retired police officer, defended the team by stressing its ability to save lives.
"We have a dive team here that's been schooled, trained, and they're the first response we've got. They have the ability to save a life and if they save one life in 20 years, it's worth it. We need this and we're lucky to have trained people to take care of our county," Dean said.
Baier took a different approach when defending the team, pointing out the environmental aspects of what the team does.
"We have snowmobiles go through the ice in areas with a heavy flow of water and our dive team is able to get out there and get them out of the water so we don't have gas and oil leaking and so forth. There's a lot of things that come out of this," Baier said.
Shidell, however, was adamant the team should not be funded by the county.
"In the last 20 years, 33 people have drowned in Oneida County - tragic, every one of them, except the one who committed suicide and the one who was eluding police. Out of those, we have to say that those that drown in June, July, and August are beyond saving no matter how efficient a dive team you have. You only have three to four minutes and then they're dead. As tragic as that sounds, they're gone. So, 21 of those deaths we couldn't save with a dive team if we tried. Five more of those were either suicide, indoors in a hotel swimming pool or whirlpool, or they were eluding police. Three more of those died in September, October, or April or May. Once again, I doubt seriously if the dive team can get to them in time because the water's still pretty warm. We're down to four people who fell through the ice that we even have a chance of saving and that's if we get there ... in 30 to 35 minutes. I feel that once every five years, spending $100,000 to keep a dive team around can be accomplished ... by contracting on an independent contractor basis," Shidell said.
Dean took exception to Shidell's comments.
"To me, you can't put a price on what anybody's worth," he said.
The board then voted in favor of reinstating the dive team, with Shidell casting the lone dissenting vote.
North Central Regional Planning Commission
One of the more contentious debates during the Administration Committee hearings was over whether the county should continue as a member of the North Central Regional Planning Commission (NCRPC).
The membership dues are $46,000 and the committee initially decided the county should not continue its membership.
After hearing about all of the projects the NCRPC has helped the county with, however, the committee reversed its decision and recommended the board approve paying the membership dues.
The NCRPC works with several county departments on multiple projects. It helps the Land Records Department with mapping projects, such as the recently completed aerial imagery project which saved the county $30,000. It has also assisted the Sheriff's Department on communication projects by helping to partner the department with North East Public Safety Communications, a group that has helped make sure over 500 public safety organizations throughout 16 counties in the state can communicate reliably and effectively.
The Oneida County Emergency Management Department has also worked closely with the NCRPC on Hazard Assessment and Mapping projects, creating the county's All-Hazard Mitigation Plan, which is required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be completed every five years, and developing a County Emergency Response Zone Atlas which has helped to reduce emergency response times.
While the consortium does important work, some board members argued it gets in the way of private enterprise.
"Much of what (the NCRPC does) is in direct competition with private enterprise and all too often, a government agency just goes to them," Sorensen said, while making a motion to cut the membership dues.
Rudolph said much of what the NCRPC does can't be done by private enterprise.
"To say that (the NCRPC) is competing with private enterprise, I don't think that private enterprise has the ways and means to generate the assistance, in terms of federal economic development dollars and so on, that North Central Regional Planning has. $46,000 is a lot of money, but I think it is an investment that we need to make," Rudolph said.
Corporation Counsel Brian Desmond then informed the board that if it were to cut the funding for the membership dues, the county could face legal issues.
According to Desmond, it would take a two-thirds majority vote to end the county's relationship with the NCRPC and the vote would have to take place six months before the effective date of withdrawal.
"I don't know what action, if any, (the) Regional Planning Commission would take against Oneida County should this be taken out of the budget, but you should be made aware of these procedures that are in the statutes that have not been followed," Desmond said.
The board then voted Sorensen's motion down, electing to continue working with the NCRPC.
Those voting in favor of ending the relationship were: Shidell, Baier, Thompson, Hintz, Sorensen, Billy Fried, Jim Intrepidi, Jack Martinson, Scott Holewinski, and Mike Timmons.
The least contentious issue of the day was a motion made by Holewinski to increase the estimated revenue brought in by sales tax.
Finance Director Margie Sorenson had been cautious with her initial estimates and new figures show she may have been overly-cautious, prompting Holewinski to make a motion to increase the estimate by $50,000 and thereby lowering the tax levy by that much.
If the new estimate is not met, the difference would be made up with general fund money.
The motion passed unanimously.
The final tax levy was approved on a 20-1 vote. Shidell was the lone dissenting vote.
Posted: Saturday, November 17, 2012
Article comment by:
Mr. Jerry Shidell should be ashamed of himself for the comments he made about the dive team. To say that drowning accidents are "tragic, except the one who committed suicide and the one who was eluding police" is like saying car accidents are tragic, except the ones involving alcohol.
It doesn't matter how or why the person ended up in the water, they are still a person who needs help. It's true that the dive team is usually too late to save a life, but finding a body and providing closure for a grieving family is priceless.
I had a good friend who drowned after saving her young daughter from the same fate. It could have been weeks/months before her body surfaced. Instead, the dive team found her body the following day. Imagine, Mr. Shidell, standing on the shore crying, wondering where your spouse/parent/child/friend is. Sometimes you need to forget the dollar signs and remember compassion.
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