County tax rate lower; revenue will rise

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Editor

The robust real-estate market in Jefferson County is pushing property values up, meaning that the county can lower its tax rate while still managing to collect a bit more in tax revenue.

The County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday got its first look at the proposed county budget for 2019. The county’s total tax levy will be about $29,650,000, up about $325,000 from 2018.

The county’s tax rate will fall by 16 cents per $1,000 of equalized valuation, about a 4 percent drop from 2018.

After peaking at 4.392 mills in 2015, the proposed countywide tax rate for 2019 is 3.991 mills, meaning that the county property tax on a home assessed at $150,000 would be $598.65.

Overall, the county is looking at spending just over $81 million, as compared with $72.3 million this year. That sharp increase comes from several one-time projects funded mostly by state and federal dollars.

The county’s only debt is $14.2 million remaining on the new highway shop on County Highway W on the outskirts of Jefferson.

“Structurally, we’re in pretty good shape,” County Board Chair Jim Schroeder told reporters before the meeting.

Some counties take on debt to pay for road maintenance, “but that’s a death spiral,” Schroeder added. “We could have gone on a spending spree, but we haven’t.”

Special items proposed for 2019 include road work on County Highways A and B, improvements to the law-enforcement and emergency communication system, recreation trail construction and reclamation of the old highway shop site off Puerner Street in Jefferson for new development.

The county hopes to collect $6.325 million on its 0.5 percent sales tax in 2019, possibly more if the economy keeps humming and residents have discretionary income, County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held at the County Board’s meeting Oct. 23 at the courthouse, beginning at 7 p.m. The full budget document is available at the county’s Web site,

In the meantime, supervisors may propose budget amendments in writing or at meetings. Final approval of the budget is slated for the County Board meeting on Nov. 13.

In other action Tuesday:

  • Supervisors voted to sell the old Highway Department satellite shop in Lake Mills to Chandler White, doing business as CRW Co. LLC, for $60,000.
  • “Here’s a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares.” That hit song by Travis Tritt sums up the county’s response to a woman who sought a refund after the country music star’s July 13 show at the Jefferson County Fair was canceled due to bad weather. The county denied a claim of $96.40 by Jeanne Vonachen, who had VIP seats for the concert. A disclaimer on the tickets stated that no refunds would be given for adverse weather.
  • The board approved a resolution declaring Oct. 7-13 as National 4-H Week in Jefferson County.
  • Supervisors approved the spending of $887,234.84 for 12 Model International HV613 quad-axle trucks from Lakeside International and $1,187,520 for equipment and set-up for those trucks from Monroe Truck Equipment. The trucks will allow the Highway Department to spread brine, rather than rock salt, on winter roads, which is expected to save money.
  • The county recorded a resolution in remembrance of former County Supervisor Leon Zimdars, who died Aug. 29 at the age of 97.


Ruffians, beware! City may boost fines

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Editor

The Whitewater Common Council is poised to bring the hammer down on a variety of misbehavior in the city – or maybe not, and in any case not quite yet.

The council on Tuesday voted to table a proposed ordinance that would have set a fine of $1,000 for anyone damaging a designated city landmark. The move followed a decision in September to delay action on raising fines for a host of offenses, from obstructing an officer to using improper identification.

The council acted after member Lynn Binnie said a $1,000 fine for landmarks damage could have “unintended consequences.” Besides highly visible publicly owned properties such as Birge Fountain, city-designated landmarks include about a dozen private homes.

Binnie wondered whether a misguided reveler might end up facing a hefty fine for “knocking over a birdbath” outside a landmark home. City Attorney Wallace McDonell said police have the option of charging only disorderly conduct for a small offense such as that.

Patricia Blackmer, who owns a landmark house at 445 W. Center St., told the council that “We have had significant damage to our property. … This ordinance needs to go forward.”

However, some council members questioned the fairness of higher fines for damage only to certain private homes. Members Jimmy Schulgit and Stephanie Vander Pas voiced doubts over whether such an ordinance would deter vandals.

The current fine for property damage is $450 to $700, plus restitution for repairs, council members said.

Council members agreed to look into what other cities are doing about vandalism issues before moving forward. City Manager Cameron Clapper said the matter probably would be delayed until after approval of the city budget at the end of November.

2019 budget unveiled

As revealed by Clapper on Tuesday, the 2019 city budget proposes general-fund spending of $9,658,650, up about $344,000 from the current year. Clapper said most of that extra money was found by eliminating inefficiencies in city spending.

The total city budget, including services such as sewer and water that are paid for with user charges, would be $26,259,403.

On a home assessed at $150,000, the 2019 budget would impose a city tax of $985.56, an increase of $75, within Walworth County; and $973.83, an increase of $53, within the Jefferson County portion of the city.

Clapper noted that limits on state shared revenue are forcing the city to rely more on the property tax to support local services. The tax levy has risen about 3 percent a year over the last decade, a pace faster than overall spending has gone up.

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which is exempt from property taxes, makes a payment to the city each year for municipal services. The payment in 2019 will be $281,417, which covers only about 38 percent of the actual cost of services provided to the university, Clapper said.

Major projects in the works for 2019 include Milwaukee Street reconstruction, drawdown and dredging of Cravath Lake, and street-light repair and updates with energy-efficient LED fixtures.

The board’s Finance Committee will review the budget in open meetings on Oct. 11 and 18 at 6 p.m., and the full Common Council will examine the plan at its meetings Nov. 8 and 20 at 6:30, with final approval scheduled at that last meeting.

In other action Tuesday:

  • Clapper presented organizers of the annual CROP Walk with a proclamation recognizing their efforts. The CROP Walk, to be held Saturday, Oct. 6, raises money to fight hunger in Whitewater and around the world.
  • The council approved an ordinance banning the sale of electronic cigarette “vaping” devices to minors and prohibiting minors from possessing such devices.
  • Council members approved a ban on parking from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. on the west side of Church Street from West Center Street to West Forest Avenue. Area residents have complained of noise and littering in the area after bar time.
  • The council approved a bid of $38,689 from F.J.A. Christiansen Roofing to replace the roof of Building 200 at the wastewater treatment plant.