County budget one step closer to adoption

¦ Financing plan for new county emergency radios comes under fire at hearing
Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – The County Board made no changes to the proposed 2014 budget Tuesday, but they were put on notice that some municipalities are not happy about some planned future charges.

The board reviewed the $126 million budget without suggesting any changes to the document. It was sent back to the Finance Committee for final consideration before coming back to the board next Tuesday for final action.

What did draw comment was the plan for financing the cost of new radios for emergency response personnel throughout the county that will be part of the new combined dispatch system being installed countywide.

The plan currently under consideration, but not yet adopted, would have local police and fire departments and emergency responders responsible for half the cost of the new radios, with the county picking up the balance of the cost.

That drew a sharp response from Sheboygan Falls Town Board member Barbara Poch during the public hearing on the proposed budget.

Noting that the town supports two fire departments (town of Falls and Johnsonville) with a total of 55 radios, she asked, “Where are we supposed to come up the money to help pay for those radios?

“How are we supposed to come up with that? We’re all trying to pinch pennies. Everything gets pushed down and where do we push it? We have to push it down on the people,” Poch continued.

“Can’t you help us out with the radios more than 50 percent? Can’t you do a little more to help us feel loved,” she concluded.

Johnsonville Fire Dept. Chief Dennis Roehrborn echoed his remarks, noting that his department receives only $34,000 a year from the town of Sheboygan Falls.

“We hold fundraisers,” to make up the rest of the budget and purchase needed equipment,” Roehrborn told the supervisors. “I’ve never seen our Sheriff’s Department hold fundraisers to buy guns. But we get to come and beg for money, beby cause we didn’t decide to change the radio system, the county did.”

“The county doesn’t necessarily want to go with a new system and we’re not entirely happy about it either,” County Administrator Adam Payne responded.

He pointed out that the county is paying the cost of the combined dispatch system and center, without any financial support from the towns and villages that will utilize it.

“We’re looking for some cooperation with the local units of government for their departments,” Payne added.

He noted that the 50-50 financing plan for the new radios came out of a recent meeting of county officials with local heads of government.

“You do not need to make that decision this week or next week,” Payne told the board after Supervisor Jim Baumgart questioned whether the budget could be amended to have the county pick up more of the cost of the radios.

He said the final financing will be part of a bond package for the combined dispatch system that will come from the Law Committee in December.

“In other words, the county could pick up the full cost (of the radios), since we’re being saddled with the cost of joint dispatch,” Supervisor Dick Bemis commented. The proposed budget calls for a 1.83 percent in the property tax levy and a 3.5 percent increase in the property tax rate while cutting county spending 1.1. percent.

“It’s largely a status quo budget and if we’re able to maintain what we have with limited resources, we must be doing something right,” Payne commented.

Noting the lengthy process that produced the budget, which began last February, Payne characterized the board’s review and approval of the document anti-climatic.

“When our budget process isn’t anti-climatic, then we haven’t done our jobs, because everyone in this room has had a role in this document,” Payne noted.

He singled out department heads, many of whom were present for the budget review, for their efforts to balance the county budget.

“We know how hard we’ve worked as an organization to streamline and provide efficiencies. We have an excellent, dedicated, hard-working, conscientious staff,” Payne concluded.

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