No geothermal for highway shop

By JAMES KATES / Capstone political editor

Construction will start soon on Jefferson County’s new highway shop, but it may take a while to determine just how “green” the new facility will be.

The county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the first contract for the new shop, a $1.2 million deal with Miron Construction for precast concrete.

This amount was about $205,000 less than expected, which will free up money for other parts of the project, board Chairman John Molinaro said.

The board will receive more details from construction manager Maas Bros. next month, with the total cost of the facility currently estimated at $13.8 million, Molinaro said. The shop, which would include offices, garages, repair bays and storage sheds, will be built at the site of the now-demolished old Countryside Home on County Highway W in Jefferson.

Also on Tuesday, board members killed a resolution that would have instructed the county to investigate the possibility of using geothermal heating and cooling at the shop.

The move came after preliminary estimates showed that a geothermal system would take 66 years to pay for itself. The cost of having a consultant gauge the technology’s workability alone would be $30,000, Molinaro said.

Geothermal systems use piping and ductwork to tap into underground temperatures, making buildings warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

“We do have to look at green energy. That being said, geothermal does not make sense,” Supervisor Dick Schultz said.

In place of the geothermal plan, the board OK’d an amendment by Supervisor Jim Schroeder to have the Infrastructure Committee look further into energy-saving ideas for the shop.

Schroeder said any fixes would involve “retrofitting” the shop at a future date and would not delay the start of construction this summer. For now, heating would rely on natural gas and cooling on electricity.

County Administrator Ben Wehmeier told supervisors that contractors would deliver a “punch list” of energy-saving features already included in the plans when more bids are delivered to the County Board in April.

Even Supervisor Greg David, the board’s most outspoken proponent of sustainability, agreed that geothermal energy was not workable for the highway shop. Still, “to just slap some money down and take natural gas is a huge mistake,” he said.

David asked the board to consider options such as generating gas from biomass, which could provide “local sovereignty” and “keep those energy expenditures right here in Jefferson County” by using crops such as switchgrass.

Supervisor Dwayne Morris cautioned that the board had to keep “both science and taxpayer money in mind,” instead of approving any new technology before its costs are known.

Deputies’ contract approved

In other action Tuesday, supervisors approved a new three-year contract with LAW Local 102, the union representing sheriff’s deputies.

The pact will boost wages by 2.5 percent retroactive from the end of 2013, by 2.5 percent at the end of 2014, and by 3 percent at the end of 2015.

However, the contract will boost deputies’ required contributions into the Wisconsin Retirement System beginning in mid-2014. By mid-2016, deputies will be paying the same share into retirement as other public employees in Wisconsin.

Law enforcement is exempt from Wisconsin Act 10, the controversial law that eliminated public union bargaining rights and required employees to contribute about half of their pension investments from their paychecks.

Molinaro said the union had shown a “positive attitude” by recognizing fiscal realities, which allowed the deputies and the county to reach an agreement without arbitration.

Also on Tuesday:

—  The board approved the purchase of a property at 211 E. Washington St. for an estimated $112,000. A house on the lot will be demolished, and 12 new parking spaces will be created between two existing county lots.

—  County Clerk Barb Frank told supervisors that new voting machines known as ES&S Model DS200 would be deployed at polling places around the county in time for the April 1 election. The “user-friendly” machines have voters fill in ovals on their ballots, Frank said.

—  County Treasurer John Jensen told the board that tax delinquencies are down slightly, “which is a small sign that things are headed in the right direction” for the local economy.

—  The board extended its thanks to three supervisors – Sarah Bregant, Greg Torres and Pam Rogers – who will not be seeking re-election on April 1.

All 30 county supervisors will be on the ballot April 1. In addition to the three who are departing, six will face challengers. The board will meet at 5 p.m. on April 15, at which time new members will be sworn in and leadership elected.