Kewaunee County passes budget with one small change, approves Phase 3 of new jail study
KEWAUNEE – Except for one shift of funds, the Kewaunee County Board passed its 2022 budget as presented Tuesday night.
The county property tax rate will be the lowest in 10 years, dropping 2.69%, from $7.06 per $1,000 of assessed property value in 2021 to $6.88 for next year. That means the owner of a property valued at $150,000 would pay $27 less on their county tax in 2022 than they did this year.
The budget, meanwhile, actually rises by $1.6% for 2022 (from $24,005,415 to $24,388,323, a $382,908 increase) and the tax levy, the amount funded by property taxes, by 1.49% (from $12,687,299 to $12,876,389, a $189,090 increase). But equalized property values in the county rose by 4.24%, from $1.796 billion to $1.876 billion, which is why the budget can be bigger with a lower tax rate.
The only amendment to the budget came from Sup. Tom Romdenne, who moved that $40,000 from the levy intended to fund the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. be used for the county's Highway Department, with the county's Roads & Bridges Fund paying the same amount less to the department so there would be no change in the department's total budget.
To replace the KCEDC funding, Romdenne proposed using $40,000 from the county's Economic Development Fund, also known as the "Dominion fund," so there would be no net change in the levy or budget. That fund comes not from taxes but from annual $500,000 payments for a 10-year period by Dominion Energy through an agreement reached after Dominion closed the Kewaunee Power Station.
The motion on Romdenne's amendment passed, although before the vote Sup. Jeffrey Vollenweider expressed concern over how the KCEDC would be funded after the Dominion payments into the fund stop in 2026.
Another proposed amendment failed to make it into the budget after some discussion. This would have changed an administrative assistant position in the Emergency Management Department to a 30-hour-per-week position, making it a full time job with benefits.
The position, which currently works 20 hours per week, was proposed to change to 30 in the original budget presented to the county in September. The county's Executive Committee approved the change, but the Finance Committee recommended cutting it back to 27.5 hours a week, meaning it wouldn't be full time with benefits. The reduced hours would save the county $11,740, more than $8,000 of that in health insurance and other benefits.
Emergency Management director Tracy Nollenberg asked the board to reinstate the 2.5 hours the Finance Committee removed, and Sup. Joanne Lazansky moved to amend the budget as such. But Lazansky's motion failed, and the budget was passed without further changes.
Other highlights of the budget include:
- A transition of four positions from contract work to full time staff, which is expected to slow high turnover rate and cost less than the current cost of recruiting and onboarding them;
- $15,000 for grant writing services, which County Administrator Scott Feldt said he requested because of a substantial increase in the amount of money available through federal and state grants;
- $50,000 for the University of Wisconsin-Extension to help it relocate its department and staff to a centralized space in Luxemburg;
- About $25,000 for training for each of the county's 25 department heads; and
- $25,000 to create maintenance plans for each of the county's four office and maintenance buildings.
Following the meeting, Board Chair Dan Olson and other supervisors recognized Feldt and Finance Department director Paul Kunesh for the ease with which the budget was passed this year. The meeting ran just a few minutes longer than an hour, with about half of that devoted to discussing, amending and passing the budget.
"It's the smoothest budget process I've seen since I've been here," Olson said from the chair. "(Feldt and Kunesh) foresaw things that would be questioned, searched (for) those answers and presented them."
After the meeting, Feldt agreed that this budget went through as smoothly as any he could remember in his seven years with the county. He also touted how it emphasizes upcoming county projects, such as a new jail and public safety building, and looks to improve conditions for its employees.
"I think this is one of the smoothest budget processes we've had in the seven years I've been here," Feldt said after the meeting. "I applaud the efforts of our board and (Kunesh). This budget really helps focus our commitment on capital projects and reinvesting resources into our staff."
RELATED: Lowest tax rate in 10 years proposed for the 2022 Kewaunee County budget
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New jail discussed
The larger discussion during the meeting centered on the proposal for a new county jail and public safety facility to replace the current 53-year-old facility, which is outdated and in need of frequent repairs.
The board voted, 17-1, in favor of moving on to Phase 3 of the study for the new building, which would have the architect draw up plans to be considered. The budget passed later in the agenda contains about $190,000 to finish the study.
During the discussion, Feldt recommended the study be completed. The new facility would require added staff and operational costs that are very likely to exceed levy limits, which means a referendum to exceed the levy would need to take place, probably in November 2022. With a referendum almost certain to happen, Feldt and Olson noted the county can't finalize staff requirements or put a price tag on operational costs until Phase 3 is completed, which wouldn't happen in time to put the referendum question on the April 2022 election.
"(The study) will give a better idea on staff needs and operational costs," Feldt said. "The most important thing we can do is complete Phase 3 … We really can't tell (on staff and costs) until we have the final design."
"The Public Safety Committee (which oversees the Sheriff's Department) felt the next logical step is to go to Phase 3 on the study, then a referendum next year," Olson said.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee County passes budget with one small change, approves Phase 3 of new jail study