County board approves construction of new satellite highway facilities

By: Ryan Altman

JEFFERSON – Lake Mills and Concord will receive new satellite Highway Department facilities following the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors’ approval at Tuesday night’s hearing.

Of the county’s total 2014 budget, $17.89 million will be dispersed between various Jefferson County Highway Department construction projects, including two 12,500-square-foot facilities in Lake Mills, an overhaul of Concord’s existing facility and the completion of a main highway facility in Jefferson.

The initial cost of construction for the Lake Mills stations was projected at $1.5 million with each satellite facility costing $750,000. However, following the board’s approval, costs were negotiated down to $500,000 per site. Included in the overall costs for both locations are unisex bathrooms, private wells and a septic system.

Concord’s renovation remains at the original $950,000 price tag.

“It’s an expensive investment,” County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said. “But there’s going to be an increased demand in services.”

When finished, the three locations will serve as permanent homes for various winter emergency response resources including snow removal vehicles and salt sheds.

County supervisors also approved funding for the final stretch of construction on the Jefferson main highway facility. The county is borrowing $3.98 million in general bonds to cover the remaining work on the $15.25 million project, which Wehmeier hopes to be completed by April 1.

Dave Wagner, a financial representative of Ehlers, the company in charge of the satellite project’s public finances, said that by reducing the Lake Mills construction costs to $500,000 per site, the 2015 tax rate for the debt incurred will drop from .195 percent to .188 in 2016.

As for the old highway shop in Jefferson, an $875,000 demolition plan exists, but there are no immediate plans for any demolition, sale, or restoration, as they remain open to future development opportunities.

Supervisor Amy Rinard was one of several board members opposed to the need for additional satellite facilities. Rinard cited that Jefferson already has four existing facilities, questioning the necessity for two more to be built.

“If having two satellite facilities increases response time and efficiencies, why doesn’t having four satellite facilities result in greater efficiencies and greater reductions in response time,” Rinard said.

Highway Commissioner Bill Kern recognized slow response times and ineffective plow routes as the main reasons behind the need for the new locations.

“The existing sites, based on where they were placed many years ago, are in very inefficient spots,” Kern said.

Kern added that centrally-located satellite facilities would reduce the number of workers needed in any given winter emergency, help limit the amount of snowplow route overlap and possibly save the county thousands of dollars in the future.

Between Lake Mills and Concord, Kern indicated that potential savings could be well over $40,000.

Supervisors John Kannard and Carlton Zentner also raised objections to Kern’s proposed savings, expressing concern about the real benefits the county would experience going forward. They believed the costs of construction and borrowing of money overshadowed any potential future savings.

“In 50 years, we wouldn’t even break even,” Kannard said.

“I think the timing is particularly bad… We don’t have to spend all that money,” Zentner added.

Other items on Tuesday’s agenda included:

  • Approved a resolution to purchase an upgraded dispatch system for the Jefferson County Sherriff’s Office from General Communications for $281,467
  • Authorized agreement for transportation planning services for a portion of Jefferson County including the Milwaukee urbanized area
  •  Approved a resolution in memoriam for Kathleen Groskopf, who served on the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors from April 1996- April 2002 and May 2003 to February 2007
  • Proclaimed March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day
  • Proclaimed month of April as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month

Walker’s proposed budget cuts dangerous to both city and UWW students

By Ryan Altman / Capstone Contributor

Whitewater Common Council members passed a resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting discussing the city’s opposition towards Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-2017 state budget effects on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

As part of the proposal, Walker is calling for a reduction in state funding for all 26 schools in the UW system. UW-Whitewater would suffer the largest loss, experiencing a $6.4 million cut for two years in state aid.

The proposal’s effects hit home for a couple 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 in the UW system.

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

“This has been emotional for me,” Diebolt-Brown added.

Although there is a two-year in-state tuition freeze for Wisconsin residents, out-of-state students might not be so lucky. City Manager Cameron Clapper later acknowledged that “theoretically,” out-of-state tuition could be raised by nearly $5,000.

If all else fails, Clapper does not want to ignore the issue because the school’s enrollment could be drastically affected.

“This is a quality of life issue,” Clapper said. “It would lead to a clear reduction in demand for students coming out of state.”

Clapper said, however, an out-of-state tuition increase of this magnitude could replace the loss of various forms of state aid, including grants that total over $400,000 and allow the city to avoid paying municipalities fees out of its own pockets.

Under Walker’s proposal, Clapper added there would be no changes to the levy limit or to shared revenue, saying that the budget “has had less impact on municipalities than in prior years.”

Additionally, Clapper stated that the city would lose control of property assessments. He didn’t know the immediate impact it would have on Whitewater, although he indicated that a “positive workload shift” for city employees would occur as a result.

At the hearing, Clapper also invited the city to adopt the League of Wisconsin Municipalities Partnership for Prosperity Agenda.

This agenda focuses on three main areas: maintaining the levy limit, exploring shared revenue that involves job creation and incentives, and a potential 2-year transportation aid that helps the city find more sustainable ways to find transportation.

Clapper and Council President Patrick Singer said they planned to meet with legislature at the state capital on Wednesday to discuss these matters.

Also discussed by the council:

  • The installation of over 1,000 feet of fiber in city conduit that will link several buildings downtown.
    • The fibers would run from the corner of Fremont and Main Sts and cross Fremont onto the south side of Main. It requires the Wisconsin Independent Network to remove fibers from the city’s current conduit
  • Proposed construction of Whitewater armory’s ramp to be slope compliant with ADA requirements.
    • Construction costs presented would be over $100,000 (15% design, 5% construction supervision). District 4 Rep. Lynn Binnie suggested the possibility of using an electric lift as an alternative, stating it could be less costly. Approved and seconded.
  • Request by Police Chief of Understanding between City of Whitewater and UWW Police Services for use of the city’s Emergency Operations Center in the event of an emergency. Approved and seconded.

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