March 17th, 2015

Jefferson County Board Approves Highway Budget Proposal

County Administrator Ben Wehmeier

The Jefferson County Board approved a proposal Tuesday to begin construction of two new satellite facilities in Lake Mills and Concord.

The Lake Mills shop will be built on county-owned land at the interchange of Interstate 94 and State Highway 89, while the Concord facility will be built on the site of an existing satellite shop at the interchange of I-94 and County Highway F.

The new facilities will be funded by general obligation bonds, which were allotted $17.89 million in Jefferson County’s 2014 budget. Funds will used in the construction of the new main highway shop in Jefferson, the two satellite shops, and $950,000 in remediation costs at the existing Concord site.

The Highway and Infrastructure committees had approved a $1.2 million proposal last week, but the staff was able to further reduce costs.

The updated and approved proposal calls for two 12,500-square-foot buildings at a cost of $500,000 each, which is a $250,000 reduction from the initial estimate. The building costs include the base cost, $45,000 for the construction of a unisex restroom and $15,000 for a private well and septic system.

“Based on feedback we received from staff, we looked for an opportunity to do better,” Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said.

Satellite facilities are utilized by the county to store salt, snow plows and other emergency traffic control devices, among other things. The county’s Highway Department currently owns and operates out of five satellite facilities in Jefferson County, located in Ixonia, Palmyra, Lake Mills, Waterloo and Concord.

The Waterloo, Ixonia, and Palymyra sites were all constructed in the 1940’s or 1950’s, and Highway Commissioner Bill Kern told the board that all of the county’s facilities have some aspect in very poor condition. These issues range from not having salt storage or heating to severely deteriorating buildings. The Palymyra site has largely been abandoned.

The county intends to sell or demolish the buildings and sell the land at all of the current locations except for Concord.

The need for new satellite facilities stems primarily from the concern that a reduction in critical response times during winter emergencies is needed, Kern said. He explained that the current facilities are in “very inefficient spots,” and he hopes that the new locations at Lake Mills and Concord will drastically cut initial snow plow response time by 30-45 minutes.

Additionally, Kern and Wehmeier estimated that the Concord site will save the county $44,000 in operational costs based on the reductions in snow plow travel time and project and maintenance costs. The Lake Mills facility was estimated to save $28,000 in the same areas.

“These facilities would offer improved emergency response and a secure site for all county operations,” Kern stated. “These aren’t numbers we make up…it’s pretty easy to look at how they add up.”

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, the board:

  • Approved spending for an upgrade to the county’s public safety and dispatch radio equipment.
  • Proclaimed March 13th as K-9 Veterans Day.
  • Proclaimed April to be recognized as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.
  • Memorialized longtime board member Kathleen Groskopf and extended sympathies to members of her family in attendance.

February 25th, 2015

Common Council Joins University in Budget Opposition

Tuesday’s meeting of the Whitewater Common Council focused primarily on Governor Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-2016 budget and the potentially disastrous impact it could have on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the city as a whole.

The proposed budget would reduce funding in all 26 schools in the UW system by an estimated 13%. But topping that list is UW-Whitewater, which would lose $6.4 million to $8 million in state aid in each of the next two years. This amounts to an over 30% cut in General Purpose Revenue, or GPR. UW-Whitewater already has the lowest GPR out of all schools in the system.

The budget won’t be final until it’s approved by the State Legislature, and this process won’t be completed until the summer months.

City Manager Cameron Clapper expressed concern over Walker’s proposed budget, saying that it “is a significant step backward. From the school district point of view, this is a quality of life type of issue. There would be a severe and significant effect on the community.”

He acknowledged that Wisconsin residents are under a two-year in-state tuition freeze, but said “theoretically,” out-of-state tuition could be raised by almost $5000 in order to make up the substantial deficit.

The council unanimously passed the motion to join UW-Whitewater in their opposition of the budget cuts.

The proposal hit home for several of the council members, including current UW-W student and District 5 Representative Sarah Bregant and District 3 Representative Brienne Diebolt-Brown, whose husband is a professor at UW-Whitewater.

“I’m very concerned about the implications this could have,” Bregant said. “I hope that this resolution makes them realize that students will suffer quite a bit.”

“This has been emotional for me,” Diebolt-Brown said, through tears. “Chancellor Telfer announced today that professors will not get sick leave, they will not get tenure, and they will not have a chance for sabbatical to do their research. These are the things that attract amazing professors to Wisconsin.”

“This means they will not come and teach our kids,” she added. “They will go to places that actually respect education.”

District 2 representative and UW-W graduate Stephanie Abbott personally credited the university “for what I’ve done and who I am.”

She joined in the opinion of the others that the cuts would be “a major hit to the university and to the city.”

Additionally, Clapper stated that he and Common Council President Patrick Singer would be going to the state capitol on Wednesday to discuss the budget with legislators.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

•         Approved an agreement with the Wisconsin Independent Network allowing them use of city-owned conduits along Main Street for fiber-optic cable.

•         Discussed and approved a proposal from Strand Associates to design and construct an improved handicap-access ramp at the downtown armory as well as replacing the stairs. The current ramp does not meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The project is expected to cost around $100,000, and the expense was briefly deliberated amongst Councilmember at Large Ken Kidd, District 4 Representative Lynn Binnie, and Legal Counsel Christopher McDonell.

•         Approved a request from the UWW Police Chief to use the City Emergency Operations Center in the event of an emergency.