County budget focuses on water, tourism
At the Tuesday Kewaunee County Board meeting Scott Feldt, county administrator, unveiled a proposed 2016 county budget that included new tourist and land and water conservation positions, addressing two of the county’s biggest priorities.
The proposed budget recommends adding a full-time tourism/public information officer in the Promotion and Recreation Department and a full-time position in the Land and Water Conservation Department. A full-time jailer/radio operator position in the Sheriff’s Department would be eliminated.
“We are governing in difficult times,” said County Chairman Ron Heuer. “This budget starts to reflect where we want the county to go.”
For 2016, Feldt proposed a recommended county budget of $20.381,048, a .03 percent increase over the 2015 budget of $20,319,732. The tax levy would increase 1.22 percent from $11,027,283 to $11,161,802.
Under the proposed budget, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation would decrease $1.78 from $7.59 in 2015 to $5.81 in 2016, a 23.4 percent decrease.
The increase in expenditures is primarily due to a projected 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums and an increase in worker’s compensation premiums, Feldt said.
No county sales tax was included in the proposed 2016 budget. County Chairman Ron Heuer said that if a county sales tax was implemented in the future, he would recommend it be approved by a countywide referendum.
With levy limits in place, Feldt said that the county may have to consider a county sales tax in the future to help construct a new jail facility. The current jail facility is outdated and the state will likely soon require a facility that adheres to current correction facility standards, he said.
In another boost to the county’s budget, Stuart Yven from Dominion’s Kewaunee Power Station presented a check to the county for $142,652 from Dominion to help alleviate the revenue shortfall from the closing of the power station.
The county will lose approximately $700,000 in utility tax payments from the state annually, but expects to make up the shortfall in 2016 with an additional $428,000 provided by the state as a result of state legislation passed last week. Feldt recommended that these funds be deposited into the General Fund in 2016 to help increase what are currently low fund balances.
Yuen also provided an update on the plant’s decommissioning, noting that all spent fuel rods would be moved to above-ground concrete storage containers by the end of 2016. He said that Dominion has used contractors from Northeast Wisconsin for most of the decommissioning work and that more than 250 trucks had delivered concrete for the storage facilities over the summer.
He said that after 2016, the plant would be in a dormant state and Dominion would continue to provide security until the fuel rods could be moved to a Department of Energy storage facility.
In reviewing the proposed county budget, Supervisor Charles R. Wagner expressed concern that no raises were proposed for the county’s 146 employees this year.
He said that 42 employees had left the county in the last few years.
“Everyone who retired said that they were fed up,” Wagner said. “I am concerned that our county is getting a bad reputation around the state.”
But Heuer said that there has been no shortage of applicants for county positions.
“We get tremendous response from people who want to work in this county,” he said.
Feldt said that he did not disagree with Wagner’s concern.
“We had to choose between wage increases or staff reductions,” he said.
Heuer said that the county presently has “wonderful people running the departments.”
Feldt noted that for the first time in 40 years retired county administrator Ed Dorner had not drafted the budget and recognized Dorner for his expertise. He noted that Dorner had helped ensure that the county had a conservative debt level that contributed to its fiscal health.
The county board also passed a resolution of appreciation to recognize state Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, and Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, for their sponsorship of legislation that will provide assistance to Kewaunee County and other counties in the state which experience lost state revenue due to power plant closings.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: County budget focuses on water, tourism