County Board OKs budget, gets phone upgrade update

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – The 2014 Sheboygan County budget was unanimously approved by the County Board Tuesday.

County Administrator Adam Payne briefed the board on the status of the proposed replacement of the countywide emergency radio system.

The board voted to exceed its self-imposed borrowing limit of $4 million a year to implement the radio system as part of the next two-year cycle of capital projects.

“We’re replacing the ones that were put in place in 2000-01, which are now over 10 years old,” Payne said of the radios used by police, fire, ambulance and other emergency responders throughout the county.

He emphasized that the radios are not being replaced as part of the emergency dispatch consolidation between the county and the city of Sheboygan, which will also be taking place over the next several years, although the combined dispatch will utilize the new radios.

Instead, the problem is that Motorola – the radio suppliers – will no longer be able to repair or provide parts for the existing radios because of their age.

The county will be paying the entire $9.2 million cost of the equipment and software to support the emergency radios, what Payne characterized as the “backbone” of the system.

At issue is the projected $4 million-plus cost of replacing the nearly 2,000 radios used by local police, fire, ambulance and first responder personnel.

Of that, the county would pay $2 million to $2.2 million for radios for county personnel, Payne said. That leaves approximately $2.2 million for radios for cities, villages and towns in the county.

“Twelve years ago the county picked up the full freight,” of replacing the radio system, Payne noted, including the cost of radios for local units of government.

“As it is currently proposed, the county is asking the local units to share in the cost of their radios for their personnel,” Payne said of current plans.

The issue was discussed at the most recent meeting of heads of local governments, Payne told the board. Sheriff Todd Priebe made a presentation at that meeting outlining the need, cost and proposed payment method for the radios.

“Many of them at that meeting shared their appreciation that the county was willing to help,” with the cost of the radios, Payne said.

Presently, the county is proposing picking up half the cost of the radios for local governments, he added, but that could be amended to a larger percentage. The county could also offer to provide financing to local governments for their cost out of its reserve funds.

The bonding for the radio system and other capital projects will not be done until early next year, Payne said, and the county likely will not buy the new radios until late 2015.

He stressed that is strictly a proposal at this time and has not been approved by the County Board or any of its committees. “We have options. We have time. We’re hoping to put this together and solidify something in the next four to eight weeks,” Payne told the board.

The resolution to exceed the county’s borrowing limits for capital projects over the next two years passed by a vote of 20-2, with supervisors Mark Winkel and George Marthenze voting no, and supervisors Greg Weggeman, Thomas Epping and Peggy Feider absent.

“I’m sorry to see us deviate from our agreement,” Supervisor Roger Otten commented. “It sounds like something we’re going to be doing more of in the future and I think we ought to go back to the agreement we had.”

Supervisor Devin LeMahieu, a member of the Finance Committee, reassured Otten that the issue had been thoroughly discussed by the committee before the resolution was brought forth.

“We decided to do this right now because we have the $9 million radio system to pay for, but we intend to go back to the formula for future use,” LeMahieu stated.

The $126 million 2014 county budget was approved unanimously by the board.

The proposed budget cuts county spending by 1.1 percent but will result in a 1.83 percent increase in the property tax levy and a 3.5 percent increase in the property tax. That’s the result of continuing decreases in total property values countywide.

Despite no votes from supervisors Jim Baumgart and Richard Bemis, the board approved an increase in fees for the coroner’s office.

Supervisor Fay Uraynar pointed out that the county’s fees were lower than neighboring counties before the change.

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