Council member in a tizzy

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Whitewater Common Council member James Allen tried Tuesday to light a fire beneath his colleagues, urging them to act on several issues that he believes have been minimized or ignored in recent months.

Allen, the council’s unofficial gadfly, said he was “a little bit agitated” that items he had asked to be considered weren’t added to the council agenda in a timely fashion. To discuss the items Tuesday, the council first had to waive its transparency ordinance, which requires agenda items to be posted 72 hours in advance.

The state open meetings law, by contrast, requires items to be listed just 24 hours in advance. City staff members scrambled Monday to include Allen’s agenda items in time to meet that restriction.

In the end, the council did not discuss any of the items at great length, but Allen’s pique with his fellow lawmakers and city staff was more than clear. The tension ran both ways, as votes to waive the transparency ordinance for each item were not always unanimous.

Allen said he would not “publicly shame anyone by name.” He also said he would save his complaints about City Manager Cameron Clapper for a job performance evaluation in a closed meeting at the end of the night.

Specifically, Allen called the council’s attention to:

  • Enforcement of zoning codes by the Neighborhood Services Department. Allen wants an update on training of neighborhood service officers, who inspect properties and issue citations for unmowed lawns, junk vehicles and other violations of the zoning codes. The NSOs are unsworn officers, typically college students in law enforcement majors. Clapper promised to put the item on the council agenda for March 1.
  • The need for special equipment from Charter Communications (Spectrum) to allow the city to stream its meetings live on cable TV. Allen said numerous communities have complained of not getting the equipment as required under public-access TV laws. The council voted to direct city staff to draft a letter to Charter that could be used by Whitewater and other communities to get the necessary technology.
  •  The transparency ordinance itself. “We have a transparency ordinance that we are violating more often than not” because city staff does not get items posted to the council agenda in time, Allen said. Clapper acknowledged some “miscommunication” on postings and promised to study possible improvements.
  • The YouthBuild apprenticeship program, under which high school students in vocational training build houses. At present, YouthBuild enrolls at-risk students from the Elkhorn Area School District, who take classes in the morning and report to a job site in the afternoon. Allen and others, including Whitewater developer Larry Kachel, applauded the program but cautioned that they did not want Whitewater students to have to transfer to the Elkhorn district to join the program. Clapper agreed, saying, “We don’t want to be encouraging our students to be leaving our district.”
  • A 36-unit apartment complex under construction on the west side of North Tratt Street at Walton Drive. Aimed at UW-Whitewater students, the complex will offer apartments ranging from studios to three bedrooms. Fall occupancy is expected. “I want this item to be discussed in public” because some contractors have complained about unequal treatment by the city, Allen said.

Clapper’s report

In his regular update to the council, Clapper noted that dredging at Cravath and Trippe Lakes has been delayed somewhat by warmer weather. Crews are working at night, when colder temperatures allow them to drive heavy equipment onto the lake beds without sinking into the muck.

Clapper also updated council members on construction of a new city water tower near the Highway 12 bypass. Sections of the tower base are being welded into place, and periodic photos will show progress on the tower on the city website,

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Agreed to waive a contract provision requiring Tyr Energy Inc. to provide an updated estimate of costs for decommissioning the LS Power cogeneration plant. Decommissioning would involve shutting down the power plant, removing the buildings and equipment, and cleaning up the site. City Attorney Wallace McDonell said a sale of the plant for $72 million is pending, so the value of the plant far exceeds the potential decommissioning cost of about $2.8 million, which must be covered by a bond from the owner. Powered by natural gas, the plant generates 280 megawatts of electricity and provides steam to an adjacent greenhouse and the UW-Whitewater campus. The plant paid about $350,000 to the city in 2021 under the state utility tax.
  • Postponed approval of an agreement for replacement of the roof at the wastewater treatment plant digester building. The city received two proposals but must open the process to competitive bidding. 

Solar energy project is approved

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

A new crop of solar-energy panels may begin sprouting on farmland in the Town of Jefferson as soon as this summer after the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved development of a 500-acre photovoltaic project by Crawfish River Solar LLC.

Supervisors approved the plan on a unanimous voice vote. Crawfish River Solar will build the facility and sell it to Alliant Energy Corp. of Madison, which will operate the site for its expected life of 30 years.

The 75-megawatt project will produce enough electricity to power 10,000 homes. It will consist of solar cells that will tilt to follow the sun during the day. Rows of solar panels about as high as cornstalks will be spaced far enough apart to allow pickup trucks and other maintenance vehicles to drive through.

The area will be planted with native grasses, and the leased farmland will be restored to its original condition when the project is decommissioned.

The project site is located south of state Highway 18 in an area bordered by county Highways G, J and Q. It is about two miles west of the City of Jefferson.

The facility will provide financial benefits to the county and the town. As with all power plants in the state, the Crawfish River project will pay state utility taxes, and those revenues will be shared with local governments. Jefferson County will receive about $175,000 per year, and the Town of Jefferson will get about $125,000 per year.

The area is home to a similar, larger proposed project also being developed by parent company Ranger Power. The 1,200-acre Badger State Solar project is on hold until 2023 while developers complete an environmental impact statement to qualify for federal financing. The Badger State facility, whose sites would be north and south of Highway 18, would produce electricity for the Dairyland Power Cooperative.

Courthouse renovations

In other action Tuesday, supervisors approved a $150,000 extension of a contract with consultant Potter Lawson & Partners to look at possible upgrades for the 60-year-old Jefferson County Courthouse.

Electrical, plumbing and heating / air conditioning systems in the courthouse are at the end of their useful life and are needing more maintenance. Renovations to courtrooms, the Sheriff’s Department and jail also are being weighed. Any new construction would have to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act to provide handicap access.

Absent a clear plan, no specific price has been put on the project, but an estimate last fall put the cost at $33 million, including $17 million for the new mechanical systems.

Supervisor Jim Braughler of Watertown expressed concerns about the project cost, saying he would vote against it in the long run if the price tag were not brought down. “We need to trim,” Braughler said.

Also on Tuesday:

  • The County Board heard from two circuit judges in support of the county’s Alcohol Treatment Court, which allows repeat drunken-driving offenders to avoid jail time by agreeing to undergo treatment, monitoring and counseling. Judge Ben Brantmeier expressed hope that the alcohol court could be integrated with Family Court, because many family-law cases stem from alcohol abuse. Judge Robert Dehring noted that the alcohol court reduced costs to the county and improved public safety. Once the offenders are “in and enrolled, it’s likely that they won’t reoffend,” Dehring said.
  • The board denied a claim by John Ebbott of Helenville for replacement of a mailbox destroyed by snowplowing operations. Ebbott spoke during the public comment period to suggest that snowplow operators be trained so they “don’t come along and wipe out mailboxes.” Highway Department officials said Ebbott’s mailbox was not hit by a snowplow, but rather was destroyed when a wall of snow hit it during plowing operations.
  • The board approved a proclamation congratulating the Lake Mills High School girls basketball team on winning the Division 3 state basketball championship.
  • Supervisors approved a resolution proclaiming April 2021 as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.

Whitewater’s urban forester is honored

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Whitewater’s retired streets and parks superintendent was honored Tuesday for another role that added to the city’s attractiveness – that of urban forester.

Chuck Nass, who held the forestry position along with his streets and parks job, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council during a meeting of the Whitewater Common Council.

“Chuck was instrumental in a number of projects,” including saving trees from the emerald ash borer and recruiting volunteers for beautification efforts, City Manager Cameron Clapper told the council.

Jeff Roe, urban forestry team leader for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said Nass’ work had helped draw attention to the often-overlooked role of trees in everyday settings.

“Trees are everywhere,” Roe said. “If you look around your city, they make better places to live. They bring in oxygen, beauty, economic value, stormwater mitigation – but mostly we just like them. They help give us a sense of place.”

Dwayne Sperber, a member of the Urban Forestry Council, said Nass had helped expand the definition of urban forestry by, for example, helping street crews use trees to beautify routes that Whitewater citizens travel every day.

Nass “has demonstrated true leadership,” Sperber said. “It was a very easy nomination to make. He’s leaving quite a legacy.”

Library report

In other business Tuesday, the council heard the annual report from Irvin L. Young Memorial Library Director Stacey Lunsford.

The city library had more than 66,000 visitors last year, Lunsford told the council. It has 3,771 registered resident users and 2,941 nonresident users. In 2019, it was a net lender of interlibrary loan items, “which speaks to the quality of our collections,” she said.

Lunsford said the library was expanding on its efforts to become a community gathering space by hosting the City Market during winter months and by hiring a programming and makerspace librarian. That person will lead efforts in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) for the community.

Lunsford said e-books and audio books continue to gain popularity, but she doesn’t expect print materials to disappear anytime soon.

“There are still a lot of people who like print books, a lot of people who read magazines. We are seeing a trend of people going more to digital, but they’re using it in addition to print. They just like to have all those options.”

Also on Tuesday:

  • Parks and Recreation Director Eric Boettcher told the Common Council that work on the new Cravath Lakefront Park amphitheater is ahead of schedule due to the warmer weather. Completion is targeted for June 13. The facility will be named for the Frawley family, who donated $50,000 for construction along with $30,000 from the Rotary Club.
  • The council approved spending $63,560 for a Wachs valve-turning machine from Jet Vac Environmental. The machine will be used to open stuck water valves during periodic maintenance and in emergencies such as water-main breaks. It includes a torque indicator that will apply pressure to the valves selectively to prevent breaking the valve stems.
  • Council members supported the Police Department’s application for a federal grant that would help fund a second school resource officer to work with the Whitewater Unified School District.

Jefferson County looks ahead

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

An apparently non-controversial budget moved one step closer to passage Tuesday (Oct. 22) at the Jefferson County Board meeting, but that quiet event was accompanied by notes of much bigger things to come.

Just one citizen voiced concerns during a public hearing on the budget, which would spend about $85 million in 2020 on services ranging from parks to law enforcement.

Talking to reporters before the meeting, however, board Chair Jim Schroeder and others noted that supervisors would face major decisions – including a possible multimillion-dollar upgrade to the Jefferson County Courthouse – in coming months.

Such moves may require the county to take on debt, something it historically has been reluctant to do.

Supervisor Dick Jones, chair of the board’s Finance Committee, warned that the existing “duct-tape approach” to maintenance of county facilities would lead to a “downward spiral” as the county poured money into propping up aging buildings and equipment.

Schroeder likened the situation to “an old car that’s nickel-and-diming you to death.” Modernizing or replacing county facilities would be a better investment in the long run, he said.

Among other items, the county’s analog emergency-response communications network needs to be upgraded to digital. Major systems in the 50-year-old courthouse, such as air conditioning and cable routing, also need replacement.

However, the County Board will have to accomplish that without Schroeder’s leadership. He announced at the end of Tuesday’s meeting that he will not seek re-election in April 2020. The board will have to choose a new chair from among its members after they are sworn in later that month.

County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said he hoped to secure a contract with a consultant by the end of this year to recommend a range of upgrades and possible new construction for county facilities. To keep costs reasonable, officials are committed to renovating the courthouse at its current downtown Jefferson location rather than building elsewhere, he said.

The proposed 2020 county budget includes a property-tax levy of just over $30 million, compared with $28 million this year. Because of higher assessments of property value, the countywide tax rate would fall to 3.809 mills, down from 3.991 mills in the current budget.

Under the new tax rate, a property owner would pay $380.90 in county property taxes for every $100,000 in assessed value.

Major spending categories include social services, highways and public safety – the jail, Sheriff’s Department and emergency response.

In addition to property-tax revenue, the county hopes to reap about $6.5 million from its 0.5 percent sales tax. Most of the remainder of the budget comes from shared revenue from the state and federal governments for social services and highway maintenance.

During the public hearing Tuesday, Anita Martin of Lake Mills noted that the Land and Water Conservation Department appeared to have lost one staff position. She asked that the department be fully staffed to protect natural resources.

Supervisors have been asked to submit any proposed budget amendments in writing for consideration by the Finance Committee. The budget is slated for approval in November and will take effect Jan. 1.

Solar farm update

In other business Tuesday, the board heard from Wehmeier on progress toward a new solar electric facility to be built by Badger State Solar LLC.

The 1,500-acre, 149-megawatt project would consist of rows of solar electric panels located west of the city of Jefferson near Highway 18 in the Town of Jefferson and Town of Oakland.

Under state law, power plants that generate more than 100 megawatts are overseen primarily by the state Public Service Commission. But the county has drafted a Joint Development Agreement with Badger State Solar to regulate factors such as fencing, setbacks from waterways, and a $1 million bond for eventual dismantling of the project. The solar farm’s expected lifetime is 25 to 50 years, Wehmeier told the board.

The Public Service Commission will meet Nov. 6 at the Jefferson County Fair Park Community Center to discuss the project. Opportunities for public comment will come at 2 and 6 p.m. during the meeting, Wehmeier said.

The project would be an economic plus for local governments, Wehmeier noted. Under the Wisconsin Utility Shared Revenue program, the county and the two affected town governments could bring a total of about $600,000 a year.

Farmers also are being paid about $1,000 an acre per year for land leases, compared with about $300 they could get by leasing the land for crops.

Still, some residents have expressed concern about noise, electromagnetic interference and the appearance of the project, and the county is committed to hearing them, Wehmeier said. The board’s Executive Committee will meet Oct. 30 to review the Joint Development Agreement.

In other action Tuesday:

  • Wehmeier said the county is moving forward on its plan to increase broadband Internet access for all citizens. The county’s Broadband Working Group will continue to court private partners and will compete vigorously for $22 million in broadband grants available in next year’s state budget, he said.
  • The board rejected two citizens’ claims for vehicle damage, one for $543.99 caused by loose gravel and another for $388.85 caused by a rock that fell from a county dump truck.

Whitewater city budget up 2.5%

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

The Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday got its first look at a 2020 city budget that proposes $9,865,236 in spending, up 2.5 percent from 2019.

Because the state is falling behind in sharing revenue from income taxes, local property-tax payers will have to shoulder more of that burden – about 40 percent in 2020. That’s higher than in previous years, and the proportion may go even higher in the future, City Manager Cameron Clapper said.

“Our residents over time will be asked to contribute more and more” toward the city budget, Clapper told council members.

Property taxes are levied on about $697 million worth of residential, commercial and industrial property in the city. The tax levy has been rising about 3 percent a year in recent years, Clapper said.

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is exempt from property taxes but makes a local payment in lieu of taxes in exchange for city services. That amount has not been determined yet, Clapper said.

Public safety is the biggest spending item in the budget at 36 percent, followed by general government at 15 percent.

Higher costs for 2020 will include a $60,000 boost in health-insurance premiums for city workers. The city will try to lower its workers’ compensation costs, which are running higher than in other cities of comparable size, Clapper said.

Whitewater city taxes make up about 25 to 28 percent of each local property-tax bill. The rest goes to Walworth County or Jefferson County government, the Whitewater Unified School District and technical colleges.

The council’s Finance Committee will review and possibly revise the budget at meetings Oct. 10, 17, 22 and Oct. 24 if needed. Final presentation to the Common Council will be Nov. 5. A public hearing and adoption of the budget are scheduled for Nov. 19.

Changes for schools

In other business, the council heard about developments stemming from the possible breakup of the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District.

On July 1, the Palmyra-Eagle School Board voted to dissolve the district following a failed April referendum to raise taxes to pay for operating costs.

The Whitewater Unified School District and six other districts border the P-E district. If the district is broken up, its students, taxable properties, debts and facilities will be distributed among the neighboring districts.

Depending on the changes, the boundaries of the WUSD may or may not be redrawn. “At this time, we can only speculate what will happen,” a document from the Whitewater district says.

A non-binding advisory referendum in November will ask P-E district residents whether they want to keep the school district running at current, lower funding levels. But it is more likely that a state appeal board will decide by Jan. 15 to break up the P-E district, said Matthew Sylvester-Knudtson, the Whitewater district’s director of business services.

The School District Boundary Appeal Board is assembled by the state Department of Public Instruction and does not include representation from the Palmyra-Eagle district or its neighbors, Sylvester-Knudtson said.

He and Mark Elworthy, district administrator for WUSD, said the Whitewater school district already is looking at contingency plans. If the P-E district is broken up, the changes would be effective next July. Neighboring districts would have just a few weeks to prepare for a reshuffling of pupils, debt obligations, tax records and school buildings before the start of the new school year, they said.

In other business Tuesday:

  • The Common Council agreed to schedule a future agenda item on placement of old cars and other unsightly items in yards and driveways. The action came after council member James Allen complained that by simply throwing tarps over cars, residents of one east side neighborhood apparently had bypassed city codes regulating junk vehicles. “This isn’t covered by ordinance,” so neighbors “have been looking at one car for 20 years,” Allen said.
  • The council approved a proclamation commending the CROP Walk against hunger on Sunday, Oct. 6, and urged citizens to participate. Part of the proceeds go to the Whitewater Food Pantry.
  • Clapper told council members that the city is seeking citizen volunteers for a “Complete Count Committee” to help assure that every local resident is counted during the 2020 U.S. Census. A full count will ensure that the city gets its fair share of federal and state revenues, he said.
  • The council approved a six-year assessment contract with Accurate Assessors of Menasha, amounting to $237,000 over six years.
  • The council awarded a $130,120 contract to Northern Pipe Inc. for Starin Road culvert joint sealing.

Jefferson County looks to expand access to high-speed Internet

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday created a “broadband working group” to help bring high-speed Internet access to rural areas.

The group will explore ways to expand broadband service to parts of the county outside the cities. Some parts of the county, particularly farming areas, are “dead zones” where no Internet access is available.

“Broadband Internet is an economic development tool and helps increase property values and makes Jefferson County a more desirable place to live,” said Supervisor Amy Rinard of Ixonia, a member of the new panel. Other supervisors appointed to the group are Jeff Johns, Dick Jones, Russ Kutz and Jim Mode.

The state Public Service Commission is pushing to expand high-speed Internet access throughout Wisconsin under it Broadband Forward! program. Thinly populated areas in northern and western Wisconsin are especially underserved, according to the PSC.

A map from the PSC shows that Jefferson County enjoys broadband access in all its cities, as well as a continuous swath of access along state Highway 26 from the county’s southern border all the way to Watertown.

Broadband in Jefferson County, via cable and fiber-optic lines, is supplied mostly by Charter Communications and AT&T, with TDS Inc. as a smaller player.

The County Board last December approved a model ordinance from the PSC designed to streamline the broadband application and approval process. At that meeting, several supervisors said the lack of good Internet service in rural areas was discouraging business development and limiting access to online education.

Rinard lives just a few miles from Oconomowoc, an affluent Waukesha County community with excellent Internet access. But “it’s a different story” in Ixonia, where service is spotty and expensive, she said.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, County Board Chair Jim Schroeder told reporters that “If it was our druthers, we would create a municipal utility” that would provide broadband access countywide.

That is unlikely under existing state law. Instead, Rinard said the working group will explore financial options that might involve county or town incentives to Internet service providers, along with grants from the PSC.

Salute to county clerk

Also on Tuesday, the board bid a fond and sometimes humorous farewell to County Clerk Barbara Frank, who will retire after the spring elections April 2.

Frank has worked for the county since 1981 and became county clerk in 1997. One of her key duties is overseeing elections, including preparing and distributing ballots and voting machines, and tabulating results in everything from minor contests to the presidential vote.

In its resolution of thanks, the board noted that Frank “has taught us the importance of the ‘R’ words – recount and recall.”

In her final annual report to the board, Frank said turnout in the Nov. 6 election – which included contests for governor, U.S. Congress and state legislative seats – was 58.8 percent of eligible voters in the county.

Chief Deputy Clerk Audrey McGraw will become county clerk effective April 3. She is expected to run for election in November 2020.

In other action Tuesday, the board:

  • Heard the annual report from Register of Deeds Staci Hoffman, who noted that her office’s duties sometimes go beyond filing real-estate records. “We had a woman who came in today and wanted to know who lived on her land before she did, because she has a ghost in her house and wants to talk to him,” Hoffman said.
  • Heard the annual report from county Treasurer John Jensen, who said property-tax delinquencies have fallen steadily for six years in the improving economy.
  • Got a demonstration from Human Resources Director Terri Palm Kostroski of the county’s new Munis Self Service program, which will provide county employees with electronic deposit and pay-stub service in place of paper paychecks.
  • Approved a bid from Bos Design Builders to construct a post frame storage building at the sheriff’s office training facility in Lake Mills at a cost not to exceed $71,000.
  • Approved a bid from Sun Mechanical LLC to replace two boilers at the Human Services Workforce Development Building at a cost of $50,500.
  • Approved a resolution proclaiming April 2019 as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.





Shared-ride taxi rates to rise

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Rates for Whitewater’s Shared Ride Taxi Service are going up, but social-service agencies, not individuals, will shoulder most of the financial burden.

The Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday approved a package that will boost fares booked by agencies to $9.50, from the current $6.50. In addition, a discount that formerly set prepaid agency fares at $5.85 will be eliminated.

Package fares will more than double, to $9.50, out-of-town miles will be billed at $2.25, up from $2, and wait time charges will double from 20 cents per minute to 40 cents.

Rides in the program are provided by Brown Cab Service Inc. of Fort Atkinson with funding from the state and federal governments along with fares. The City of Whitewater makes up any remaining shortfall.

City Finance Director Steve Hatton told the council that the fare increases will raise an extra $8,000 this year, but a hole of about $30,000 still will have to be plugged by the city.

Hatton noted that ridership has been declining since 2012. The service provided 24,806 rides in 2018.

Councilmember Lynn Binnie said city spending on the program was a worthy investment, as Whitewater has no bus service and many people without cars have no other way to get around.

“This really is one of the most important services we provide our citizens,” Binnie said.

In a public hearing before the vote, Whitewater resident Brienne Brown said she had heard about wheelchair users facing long wait times or no service at all during the dinner hour.

Karl Schulte, general manager of Brown Cab, noted that rides might be delayed during “peak periods,” especially on Monday through Wednesday nights when UW-Whitewater in not in session. Service ends at 7 o’clock on those nights, but the company does its best to accommodate everyone, and all its vehicles are wheelchair accessible, he said.

Clapper in Madison

In other business, City Manager Cameron Clapper briefed the council on a lobbying visit to the state Capitol he was set to make Wednesday as part of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities meeting.

Municipal managers from around the state were descending on state lawmakers’ offices to make the case for better funding and more legal flexibility as the 2019-2020 biennial budget process gets under way.

Gov. Tony Evers is set to release his proposed two-year budget next week, and lawmakers hope to approve the spending plan by the end of June.

Municipalities want more state shared revenue to ease the reliance on property taxes. They also are seeking the restoration of certain “home rule” powers that have been eroded by legislation in recent years. For example, local communities want to be able to condemn property for bike and pedestrian paths, and impose residency requirements on municipal employees, if they wish.

Local government managers also want greater authority to exceed state-imposed limits on property-tax increases for some purposes, such as hiring new police officers.

Clapper said the city has a good working relationship with the legislators who represent the city, Sen. Janis Ringhand and Rep. Don Vruwink, both Democrats. Reconstruction of U.S. Highway 12 tops the agenda for issues directly affecting the Whitewater area, Clapper added.

In his report to the council Tuesday, Clapper also noted:

  • The city has a number of job openings, including seasonal positions in parks and recreation. Information is on the city Web site,
  • A number of city commissions and committees have openings for citizen volunteers, including the Urban Forestry Commission and the Birge Fountain Committee. Details are on the city Web site.
  • Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting was not transmitted live as usual on Channel 990, due to technical problems. It was recorded and will be available on the city Web site.
  • The city is forming a communications committee to keep residents informed about Milwaukee Street reconstruction and welcomes volunteers for the panel.



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.