County Board welcomes new judge

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors met the county’s new circuit judge on Tuesday, though the jurist is hardly a stranger here.

Robert F. Dehring is joining the Circuit Court as judge of Branch 3 on April 1. He was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to succeed Judge David Wambach, who has retired.

Dehring, a native of southeast Wisconsin, came to Jefferson County to work in the corporation counsel’s office in 2009. He became a part-time court commissioner in 2010 and later held that job full-time in Waukesha County.

Addressing board members, Dehring said he had traveled throughout the county to meet with elected officials at the town, village and city level.

He and his wife are building a home in Ixonia.

“As a judge it’s my plan to increase access to justice at the courthouse” while controlling costs, he said, assuring board members that “it’s possible to do more with less.”

Dehring began practicing law in 2003. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a law degree from Marquette University.

Strategic Plan consultant

Also on Tuesday, the board reviewed details on a Brookfiled consulting firm that has been chosen to help with the county’s new strategic plan.

The Chamness Group of Brookfield will help write the plan at a cost between $15,000 and $20,000, County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said. The last plan was done in 2010.

The plan is a “big-thinking initiative” that lays out the county’s top priorities in a time of increasing costs and tight limits on any new taxes, County Board Chair Jim Schroeder told reporters before the meeting.

Chamness will be reaching out to county supervisors and staff for their input in the weeks and months ahead, Schroeder added. Public comment also will be sought, with the goal of completing the plan by August.

The Chamness Group has 29 years of planning experience, including recent projects with Calumet County and the Wisconsin Counties Association.

In other action Tuesday, the board:

— Received the resignation of Tim Smith, county supervisor from District 29, which encompasses part of the city of Fort Atkinson. Smith said personal responsibilities had made it impossible for him to continue in the job. Schroeder said three people had applied for the vacancy, and he promised to name a successor by next month, subject to the County Board’s approval.

— Heard the annual report from Staci Hoffman, register of deeds. Hoffman said a robust real-estate market had boosted fee income for handling deeds, and the office was able to contribute more than $305,000 to the county’s general fund in 2016.

— Heard from Barb Frank, the county clerk. Frank told board members that her office had begun online voter registration in 2016. The office oversaw four elections, including the November 2016 presidential contest, and conducted a recount of the presidential ballots in December.

— Received a tally of per-diem payments to County Board members. Total payments have been trending downward since 2011. Board members receive a salary of $55 per month and are paid $55 per meeting attended. Aside from Schroeder, who was paid $13,749.03 in salary and per-diems in 2016, payments to board members ranged from about $2,200 to about $6,500.

— Authorized the use of $85,000 from the Human Services Department budget originally earmarked for a roofing job to be used toward upgrading alarm systems in Human Services buildings. The roof of the main Human Services Building is holding up better than expected and may not need replacing for another five years, officials said.

‘Splash’ canceled, but party will go on

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Trucker-Splash-WhiteBlueRed_1024x1024Spring Splash is officially “canceled,” but Whitewater city officials acknowledge that the annual celebration will occur again April 29.

They aren’t exactly looking forward to the party.

In a sometimes acrimonious meeting Tuesday, the Whitewater Common Council debated how to prepare for and respond to the celebration, which last year resulted in vandalism, trespassing, underage drinking and public drunkenness.

The chief promoters of last year’s event, Kurt Patrick of Pumpers and Mitchell’s Tavern and Steve Farina of Wisconsin Red, will not participate. Whitewater officials persuaded them that sponsoring the event was a bad idea, City Attorney Wallace O’Donell said.

Seeking to mend fences, the city issued a press release this past Saturday stating that the promoters were not responsible for the mayhem that occurred after the 2016 party.

Wisconsin Red is an event-promotion company that stages parties and sells souvenir merchandise. It put on a DJ party on Saturday afternoon at last year’s Spring Splash. It had no connection to the numerous parties afterward and did not encourage the public misconduct that flared Saturday night into early Sunday, some council members noted.

Still, the aftermath of the 2016 event “was like the Wild West in Whitewater,” O’Donell said.

Sponsors or not, many people are planning to celebrate again on the last Saturday in April. Word already is circulating on social media, and the Police Department expects University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students and others to stage house parties that likely will spill onto the streets.

“How nobody died last year is a gift,” Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher told council members. She warned them that the city would be legally responsible for injuries caused to any law-enforcement officers from other communities who respond to mutual-aid calls.

City Manager Cameron Clapper said the city is not against anyone having a good time, but that officials must make sure that citizens enjoy themselves legally and safely.

Last year’s event seemed calculated “to get as many people as possible to do a lot of crazy, dangerous things,” Clapper said. “We want to discourage that.”

Most of the trouble was caused by out-of-town visitors, he added.

Still, Council Member Stephanie Goettl complained that other members appeared to be bashing UWW students. She said the city’s attitude could spark a backlash that would only increase this year’s troubles.

“This has been the most blatantly anti-student discussion I have ever heard,” said Goettl, who joined the council as a 20-year-old UWW undergraduate and now is studying for a master’s degree in business.

“This is not anti-student,” shot back Council Member Christopher Grady. “It’s anti-mob.”

Otterbacher said the Police Department has consulted other agencies, especially the Madison police, who deal with that city’s annual Halloween festivities and the Mifflin Street Block Party. UW-Whitewater authorities will discourage out-of-town visitors from staying overnight that Friday and Saturday in residence halls, she said.

In response to pointed questioning from citizen Larry Kachel, whose family is Whitewater’s largest private landlord, she said the city would set up treatment stations for intoxicated people and distribute ‘no trespassing’ signs to help property owners keep wayward partygoers out of their yards.

Police dog sold

Also on Tuesday, the Common Council voted to sell the city’s police dog, a black Labrador named Boomer, to his handler, former Officer Joseph Matteson, for $3,500.

Had the dog been of retirement age, Matteson could have bought him for $1, which is standard practice in such cases. But Boomer will retire in mid-career. Matteson trained with Boomer and was his handler since May of 2014.

Matteson is leaving the community, and his family will own Boomer as a pet. The sale agreement specifies that Boomer cannot be used again as a police dog.

Otterbacher acknowledged that the sale might upset the community donors who raised money for Boomer’s purchase and training. But there is no guarantee that Boomer would respond well to another handler, she told the council.

“This is an opportunity to start over with a new canine and a new handler,” she said. Trying to retrain Boomer with a new handler might fail because “dogs are very loyal,” she said.

Matteson spent 14 years with the police force and was an “outstanding law enforcement officer,” Otterbacher said.

Council members unanimously approved the sale but voiced hope that the city could reach a legal agreement – or at least an informal understanding – with any future handlers to prevent police dogs’ service from being cut short.

Otterbacher said she would send letters to the 100-plus donors who paid for Boomer to explain the situation, because “this program would not be here without them.”

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Was introduced to Kristin Mickelson, the city’s new public relations and communications manager. Mickelson, a 2008 UW-Whitewater graduate, is a Janesville native who formerly worked in communications and marketing for Blain’s Farm and Fleet.
  • Agreed to study the idea of placing speed bumps at the intersection of Cherry and North streets, the site of several recent accidents.
  • Approved the borrowing of $287,000, equally split between First Citizens Bank and Commercial Bank, for the purchase of a new ambulance.
  • Approved the 2017 pay plan, which will give 1 percent cost-of-living increases to city employees who are already at the top pay level for their positions. Under the plan, Clapper, who is the city’s highest-paid employee, will earn $94,572 this year. The police chief will be paid $92,334.

 

 

County says ‘no’ to road claims

BY JAMES KATES / The Capstone

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday denied more than $13,000 in claims for damage to motor vehicles blamed on county road work, but not before a spirited discussion on whether the county has a “moral obligation” to make things right.

On a voice vote, supervisors opted to forward the claims to the county’s insurer, Wisconsin Municipal Mutual Insurance Co. In nine claims, motorists had asked the county to pay for damage caused by seal coat chips or fresh oil and tar on roads.

Corporation Counsel J. Blair Ward told supervisors that the county has “discretionary immunity” against the claims and can deny any or all of them. Parties who are denied payment can sue, but they must do so within six months.

In any event, motorists can still present any evidence they wish to the insurance company to show that the county was at fault, Ward said.

Supervisor Greg David and a few others said warning signage along some roads was missing or inadequate, allowing motorists to travel too fast and kick up debris.

In particular, they cited Ski Slide Road in the Town of Ixonia, where damage from fresh tar on a Dodge Ram truck generated the largest claim, for $6,687.76.

“I am wondering if we are not culpable for some of that” damage, David said. He asked that the claims be sent back to the Finance Committee for further consideration, but that motion was rejected on a 20-6 vote.

Supervisor Dick Schultz said the county had to be wary of motorists’ claims.

“There is some personal responsibility” for drivers to slow down on roads that are being resurfaced, Schultz said. “I’m concerned that if we waffle on this, we are opening a can of worms for our Highway Department. … I don’t think we can send that message.”

In another cautionary note on the legal front, Ward told supervisors to follow the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law very carefully to avoid even inadvertent violations that could lead to fines.

Ward’s warning stemmed from a case in Winnebago County, where members of two county committees illegally attended meetings of the Courthouse Security Committee for about four years. The Wisconsin Department of Justice told Winnebago County supervisors the practice was illegal, but it did not issue fines or take other legal action.

Supervisors must give 24 hours’ public notice – even if they are attending meetings in which they are not directly involved – if their presence might constitute a quorum of any committee, Ward said. In most cases, a quorum would be three members of a five-member committee.

If three members of a committee show up and no notice has been given, “someone needs to leave,” Ward said.

The law does not apply to social gatherings, but it does apply to any meeting of an educational nature, such as the annual conference of the Wisconsin Counties Association, he added.

In other action Tuesday:

  • Board Chairman Jim Schroeder told reporters before the meeting that the county is actively seeking a representative for District 24, which is composed almost entirely of University of Wisconsin-Whitewater residence halls and other student housing. Finding students to run for election has been a perennial problem, and the county may consider redrawing the district to include some single-family homes, Schroeder said. Anyone interested in being appointed in the interim should contact the county.
  • Schroeder shared a letter from the Government Finance Officers Association stating that the county had qualified for a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 2015.
  • Supervisors approved an increase, from $25,000 to $100,000 per year, in the threshold at which contractors with the Human Services Department must submit a certified financial and compliance audit. State law specifies the $25,000 threshold but says that limit may be raised if the county determines that it would be “burdensome” to small contractors.
  • Schroeder noted that the county budget will be voted on at the board’s meeting on Nov. 14. That meeting is on a Monday, instead of the usual Tuesday.

 

City lockbox law is delayed again

security-padlockBy JAMES KATES / The Capstone

The Whitewater Common Council has again delayed, and may end up killing, a controversial lockbox ordinance after yet another dust-up on the issue Tuesday night.

Council members voted to hold a first reading of a revised lockbox plan at their meeting Nov. 1. The move came after a council task force met Monday to consider the plan and council members asked City Attorney Wallace McDonell to draw up a new ordinance.

More than 200 businesses, churches and apartment buildings in Whitewater already have lockboxes, although they are not yet required by law. The boxes hold building keys and allow emergency responders to enter the buildings after police access the boxes using keys and entry codes.

Firefighters will break into buildings that are obviously burning, but nearly half the calls they get come from carbon-monoxide alarms, reports of gas leaks, or fire alarms that may or may not be malfunctioning, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Higgins told the council.

“We can do a lot to save those buildings if we can get inside them,” Higgins added.

However, Fire Chief Don Gregoire revealed during questioning that the Fire Department already has the legal authority to order building owners to install lockboxes. That remark led City Manager Cameron Clapper and others to wonder whether a city ordinance was even necessary.

The council passed a lockbox ordinance in 2015 and approved a narrowed version of the law on Sept. 6 after numerous complaints. Enforcement of the law, including possible fines for noncompliance, has been held in abeyance as the council reworks the ordinance.

Council member Lynn Binnie said the task force met Monday to address some concerns with the law, such as the lack of an electronic “audit trail” that shows who has accessed the boxes.

Property owners have objected to the cost of the boxes and questioned who will be legally liable for any misuse. Some have even said that by giving police access to their buildings, the boxes may violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections against unlawful search and seizure.

The task force that met Monday tried to address these concerns by, among other things, specifying that the boxes could be placed as high as nine feet above the street or sidewalk to discourage vandalism.

Council member Stephanie Goettl said she was unaware of the Monday meeting and said it “looks like an 11th-hour attempt to completely change the ordinance.”

Notice of the meeting was provided as required by law, retorted council member James Allen, who interrupted Goettl’s complaint by telling her: “You’re grandstanding.”

The council did vote to spend $19,189 to purchase “master boxes” from the Knox Box Co. that will hold the master keys used by police and will provide an audit trail when the keys are used.

Budget presented

Also on Tuesday, the Common Council got its first look at the proposed city budget for 2017.

The $9.2 million budget is 5.89 percent less than the city’s spending for 2016, because the Whitewater Fire Department has been spun off as a nonprofit entity whose costs are no longer reflected in the budget.

The property-tax levy will rise to $2,593,207, an increase of $47,157, or about 1.8 percent. The remainder of the city’s money comes mostly from intergovernmental revenue, including state shared revenue and payments from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in lieu of property taxes.

Research done in 2015 by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance puts Whitewater’s spending per capita at $413.31, well below the mean of $538.69 for cities its size, Clapper told council members.

The proposed budget is on the city’s Web site at www.whitewater-wi.gov. The target date for a public hearing and approval of the budget is Nov. 15.

In other action Tuesday, the Common Council:

  • Heard from Clapper about the possibility of changing the operating hours for the Municipal Building. Clapper suggested that an earlier start time, such as 7:30 a.m., would allow city employees to finish work earlier and might be a way to reward employees without spending extra money. Council members’ reactions were mixed, with some saying that opportunities for flexible scheduling already exist.
  • Reviewed a revised policy on large public events from the city Parks and Recreation Board. The policy is meant to regulate commercial events such as Spring Splash, which triggered numerous complaints from citizens about noise and litter earlier this year.
  • Heard a presentation from Whitewater Unified School District officials on a $23.5 million school building and improvement referendum that will go to the voters on Nov. 8. If approved, the plan would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $18 a year in additional property taxes. The money will be used to provide better security, maintenance and instructional spaces at the district’s three elementary schools, the middle school and the high school.

Council looks at library plan

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

Whitewater Common Council members agreed Tuesday to explore a public/private partnership that could help build a new Whitewater Public Library.

The board voted to reach out to Troy J. Hoekstra of United Development Solutions, which recently broke ground for a hotel in Platteville that will include space for a library.

Under such a deal – which in Whitewater is only in the exploratory phase – the developer would build the project, lease about 25,000 square feet to the library for a seven-year term, then donate the space to the library after that.

As envisioned, the deal might cost the city about $4 million for a library that otherwise would cost $7 million to $8 million, City Manager Cameron Clapper said. The city’s cost would include initial funding of about $2.5 million and annual lease payments of about $250,000, Clapper told the council.

The incentive for the developer is the New Markets Tax Credits program, under which companies get federal tax breaks to build projects that create jobs in areas with comparatively weak economies.

The credits pay out over seven years, and investors would get a tax write-off by donating the space to the city afterward, Clapper said.

Stacey Lunsford, Irvin L. Young Memorial Library director since 2001, said the plan would meet the library’s space needs. A suitable city-funded expansion at the library’s current location, 431 W. Center St., would cost $10 million, which is beyond the city’s means, Lunsford said.

Hoekstra’s company wants to put the new project on Main Street near the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus, Lunsford told the council.

Some councilmembers, including Stephanie Goettl, questioned whether a proper location was available and whether the requirement for donation of the space after seven years could be made legally binding.

But Councilmember Christopher Grady said it was up to Hoekstra – or any other qualified developer – to perform “due diligence” to find a site and draft the agreement. Once that is done, the city can decide whether to move forward.

“I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t want to approach this with an open mind,” Councilmember Lynn Binnie added.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Agreed to invite consulting firm Baker Tilly to make a presentation on a waste holding facility that would be added to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The 25,000-gallon facility would accommodate high-strength waste that could be used to produce methane gas that the city could use in place of natural gas.

Clapper told the council that Baker Tilly could secure private investment in the facility, which would reduce the city’s up-front costs and long-term risk. Baker Tilly is confident that the project “is feasible, as are we,” Clapper said.

The council ultimately voted to reject plans that would have had the city build the $400,000 facility on its own.

Council President Patrick Singer wondered whether “ratepayers’ money might better be spent on some of the more urgent items” on the wastewater plant’s long list of needs.

  • Rejected a claim of $4,199.84 for sewer backup damage at 351 S. Summit St. The city was unaware of any blockages in the system prior to heavy rainfall last November and therefore is not liable for the damage that resulted, city staff said.
  • Voted to hold its April 19 meeting at UW-Whitewater’s University Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zoning battle ignites county debate

road-workBy JAMES KATES / Capstone Staff

Jefferson County supervisors took the rare step of overruling their own Planning and Zoning Committee on Tuesday after a sometimes-heated hearing on a family-owned business in the Town of Lake Mills.

On a 3-24 vote, the County Board rejected a resolution that would have denied a conditional use permit for Philip and Sandra Bittorf’s business, Mid-State Traffic Control. The vote effectively orders the Zoning Committee to revise and resubmit the family’s request, according to county Corporation Counsel J. Blair Ward.

The revised permit, if approved by the full County Board, will rezone 3.2 acres of the family’s 40-acre property on Stoney Creek Road from A-1 Exclusive Agricultural to A-2 Agricultural and Rural Business. The family will use three existing buildings at the site to house light trucks and equipment such as traffic signs, barricades and orange construction barrels.

The Bittorfs, whose business previously was based in Dane County, moved to the Stoney Creek Road property in March. After being told their business might violate zoning, they applied for the conditional use permit, which was approved by the Town of Lake Mills in August.

At a hearing in September, the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee heard from several speakers opposed to the plan. No one except Philip Bittorf and an attorney for the family spoke in favor. The committee rejected the permit.

Since then, however, the Bittorfs have rallied the support of neighbors, many of whom showed up for the County Board meeting Tuesday. Twelve citizens spoke in favor of the Bittorfs and one against.

“I am so hurt … by the way things are going in our nice small neighborhood,” said Karen Battist, referring to the continued opposition to the business from some people along the road. “Let’s get real. This is foolish, and I do support the Bittorfs.”

Tyler Wilkinson, an attorney for the family, noted that Stoney Creek Road is maintained by the Town of Lake Mills, which had expressed no concerns over the small increase in traffic. Employees typically keep the company’s trucks at their homes during the week and visit the property only to pick up equipment, he said.

“The work does not happen at the property,” Wilkinson told the board. “The work happens at the job site.”

Attorney Jay Smith, representing four couples who oppose the rezoning, said his clients still had concerns about truck traffic, noise and safety.

To say the Bittorfs’ business is related to agriculture is “a stretch at best,” Smith said. “We think the business is being mischaracterized. It’s more like a shipping and logistics business.”

Steve Nass, the chairman of the Zoning Committee, said the panel had been caught off-guard by the sudden shift in public sentiment. He expressed hope that, in future situations, neighbors could get together and work out their differences before governments had to be involved.

Supervisor Greg David, another member of the zoning panel, noted that the committee was not supposed to vote based on whether petitioners such as the Bittorfs were “nice people” or whether their plans would create jobs.

“It’s not our job to support business,” David said. “It’s our job to follow the zoning ordinance as enacted by this county.”

The revised permit could restrict operating hours or other aspects of the business to minimize disruption. Supervisors also noted that the speed limit on the road might be reset from 45 mph to 35 mph for safety.

In other action Tuesday, the County Board:

• Heard exactly zero public comments on the proposed 2016 Jefferson County budget. No one showed up to speak about the plan, which includes an overall tax levy of about $28.6 million.

The levy includes just over $1.1 million for debt service, to help pay for the county Highway Department’s new shop in Jefferson and satellite facilities in Lake Mills and Concord.

One bright spot in the budget is an expected $200,000 increase in the county’s take from its half-percent sales tax. County Administrator Benjamin Wehmeier attributed the increase to lower gas prices, which help spur consumer spending.

The County Board is slated to vote on the budget at its Nov. 10 meeting.

• Heard from Henry Gibbemeyer, the first graduate of the county’s Alcohol Treatment Court.

Gibbemeyer, who was facing a prison term for his fifth OWI, instead enrolled in the new court, which provides intensive monitoring, treatment and supervision. He spent a year in the program, making 17 court appearances in the process.

“I’ve been clean and sober for over 18 months. This program is a firm but fair one,” Gibbemeyer told the board, which responded with applause.

• Celebrated the launch of Get Connected, a Web site that helps link potential volunteers with service opportunities in Jefferson County and Whitewater.

The site, run by the county and the local United Way, is at http://www.volunteermain.com.

 

 

 

 

Whitewater budget up 3.1% for 2016

Cameron Clapper

Cameron Clapper

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

The City of Whitewater is on sound financial footing, but only careful planning and stewardship will allow it to continue delivering services under tight fiscal constraints.

That was the take-away on Tuesday as City Manager Cameron Clapper delivered his 2016 budget to the Common Council. The council will hold a number of meetings and hearings with a target of approving the budget Nov. 17.

Clapper’s proposed general-fund budget calls for $9,777,798 in spending, an increase of $305,397, or 3.1 percent, from 2015.

The city’s tax levy would rise $46,076, or 1.5 percent.

City spending per capita is $413.31, well below the mean of $525.54 for similar sized communities in Wisconsin, according to data from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

The property-tax rate is 5.49 mills, or $5.49 for each $1,000 of equalized valuation. This, too, is below the state mean, Clapper said.

Besides property taxes, the city’s biggest source of money is state shared revenue, which is not projected to rise in 2016.

The city also would receive about $379,000 from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to help pay for the university’s use of city services. The university is exempt from property taxes.

Clapper said rising costs and state-imposed limits on local taxes mean that budgets will remain very tight for the foreseeable future.

“We need to look at ways to fund things, which is always a big issue every year since costs go up and levies stay the same,” he said. “We are bumping up against a ceiling that will require changes to how we fund things if we want to be successful in the future.”

The budget’s biggest spending category is public safety – police, fire and rescue – which would total just over $4 million.

Total costs for wages and benefits in all departments would be $5.5 million.

“The Number One resource we have to get things done is our people,” Clapper noted.

Unusual expenses next year will include an extra $45,000 for city staffing for elections in February, April, August and November.

Looking ahead, Clapper said the city wants to increase water rates gradually to pay for facilities maintenance. Rates for the water utility, wastewater treatment and stormwater treatment will rise slightly in 2016. These smaller, incremental increases do not require formal hearings before the state Public Service Commission.

Clapper also said the city wants to keep up its long-term commitment to funding the Whitewater Aquatic Center. Besides its usual contribution of $78,000, the city will set aside $50,000 for maintenance on the 15-year-old facility.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

— Heard from Clapper on a proposed reorganization plan that would shift oversight of the Whitewater Aquatic Center to the city Parks and Recreation Board starting in 2017.

Under the plan, the current Aquatic Center Board would become a nonprofit “friends” organization that would do promotion and fundraising.

The Aquatic Center is located at Whitewater High School. Besides the high school lap pool, it includes a family pool, a water slide and public locker rooms. It is jointly operated by the city and the Whitewater Unified School District.

— Approved Fero’s Automotive and Towing as the city’s primary towing-service provider. The council also approved Mills Automotive as a secondary towing provider.

— Renewed an employment agreement with Whitewater Police Chief Lisa Otterbacher.

— Approved a $23,302 contract with Midwest Tree and Excavating Inc. to install fiber optic cable to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The Common Council’s Oct. 20 meeting will be held at UW-Whitewater, at a location yet to be announced.

 

Highway satellite shops approved

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors approved a plan Tuesday to build two highway-shop satellite facilities at a cost of $500,000 each.

The satellite shops in Lake Mills and Concord will house equipment, supplies and personnel to help county highway workers respond faster and more efficiently for snow plowing and road work.

The shops will augment the new main highway shop on county Highway W in Jefferson. The new highway shop, which will replace an outmoded facility in the northern part of the City of Jefferson, will be finished in April, county Highway Commissioner Bill Kern told supervisors.

The County Board also authorized borrowing $3,980,000 to complete work on the highway shop and satellite facilities. This brings the county’s total debt for the projects to $17.2 million. The county has no other debt.

Supervisors Carlton Zentner and John Kannard questioned the cost of the satellite facilities, but Kern told board members that the small shops would save money on fuel costs and labor.

“Our guys live all over the county,” Kern said. “If we’re calling them out at 2 or 4 in the morning, they can get there more quickly.”

During the winter, four plow trucks would be stored at each of the satellite shops, with 25 trucks at the main shop in Jefferson. Truck drivers in outlying areas could go to the satellite shops and get to work immediately, rather than wasting 30 minutes or more getting to their routes from Jefferson, Kern said.

With fuel savings and reimbursement from the state Department of Transportation, the two shops could bring a return on investment of $50,000 to $70,000 a year, Kern said. The county might consider building satellite shops in Palmyra or Ixonia in the future, he added.

The fate of the old highway shop, meanwhile, has yet to be determined. The shop’s buildings date back to the 1930s and 1970s. The county plans to demolish them to remove an eyesore and encourage development of the 26-acre site.

County Administrator Ben Wehmeier told the board that the environmental situation at the old site is “not as bad as we thought it could be.”

Soil borings at the site south of Puerner Street have revealed residual petroleum and salt along with low levels of arsenic, but cleanup costs should be moderate, he said.

Before the meeting, Wehmeier told reporters that the City of Jefferson might include the site in its riverwalk and recreation plans. The site is within a tax-incremental financing (TIF) district, so commercial development is a possibility.

The site also could accommodate student housing for a proposed osteopathic medical college in Jefferson if that plan comes to fruition, Wehmeier said.

In other action Tuesday, the board:

— Approved a transportation planning agreement covering a 2.7-square-mile portion of land extending into Jefferson County along state Highway 16 from Oconomowoc. The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission now considers the land to be part of the Milwaukee metropolitan area. The move may help bring highway funding to the area, County Board Chairman Jim Schroeder said.

— Approved a $281,467 contract with General Communications to upgrade the public safety radio and dispatch system in the Sheriff’s Department.

— Approved a memorial resolution for former supervisor Kathleen Groskopf, who died in February.

— Proclaimed March 13 as K-9 Veterans Day to honor military and police dogs and their handlers.

— Proclaimed April 2015 as Child Abuse and Neglect Protection Month.

Council opposes UWW budget cuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stephanie Abbott

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

The Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution decrying the effect of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts on the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Walker proposes cutting $300 million from the UW System over the 2015-2017 biennium. UW-Whitewater would take a hit of $6.4 million to $8 million in each of those two years, said Councilmember Lynn Binnie, who co-sponsored the resolution with Councilmember Ken Kidd.

UWW is a “significant driver of economic development” and supports the “cultural climate” of Whitewater, Binnie said.

Kidd acknowledged that the council has no official say over the state budget, which must be approved by the Legislature before taking effect July 1.

“We understand that this is a symbolic gesture, but maybe if there are enough gestures of this type, we can reach critical mass,” Kidd said.

Councilmember Stephanie Abbott, who is active in Republican politics, expressed fears that the budget cuts would be a “huge hit” for the campus and said she hoped a more moderate approach would prevail.

Abbott, a UW-Whitewater graduate, credited the university for “much of what I am and have become.”

City Manager Cameron Clapper told the council that UW-Whitewater could “in theory” make up its budget shortfall by raising tuition $5,000 a year for all out-of-state students. UWW has a large number of students from Illinois.

However, there would certainly be “a drop in students coming from out of state” if the university raised tuition drastically, Clapper said. Also, a freeze on in-state tuition is likely to continue, further squeezing the UWW budget.

Regarding K-12 education, Clapper expressed disappointment that the budget would eliminate $150 per student in “categorical aid,” resulting in a $290,000 hit for the Whitewater Unified School District in the coming school year.

Meanwhile, Clapper told the council that Walker’s budget would have less drastic effects on the city’s finances. He expressed concern about a proposed moratorium on the state’s stewardship grant program, which supports land purchases by government and improvements to parks and recreation areas.

The budget would centralize property-tax assessment throughout the state by having assessments done by each county, rather than by cities, village and towns. Clapper said “open book” proceedings, which are informal reviews of disputed assessment values, still would be conducted locally.

Clapper and Common Council President Patrick Singer were in Madison on Wednesday to lobby for a “Partnership for Prosperity” sponsored by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

Municipalities have been stressed by state-imposed levy limits designed to hold down property taxes. The league’s plan calls for new state funding for job creation, levy limits indexed to inflation rather than just new construction, and increased transportation aids.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Approved an agreement allowing the Wisconsin Independent Network to use city-owned conduits along Main Street for fiber-optic cable.
  • Endorsed a pact with UW-Whitewater to give the university access to the city’s emergency operations center in the event of a devastating emergency that required university police to relocate off campus.
  • Approved a $20,000 contract with Strand Associates to oversee design and construction of an improved handicap-access ramp at the downtown armory. The current ramp does not meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The armory stairs also would be repaired. The entire project is expected to cost about $100,000.