County sets up panel to oversee Amsterdam Dunes

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – With the sale closed, the County Board Tuesday moved to ensuring management of the Amsterdam Dunes nature preserve in the town of Holland.

The board Tuesday approved creation of a 14-member Amsterdam Dunes Advisory Committee to advise the county on managing and administering the 333-acre property.

Members of the committee have yet to be named, but the resolution listed the following representatives:

. Four County Board supervisors – one each from the Executive; Finance; and Planning, Resources, Agriculture and Extension committees; and the supervisor from the district in which the property is located (District 25, Supervisor Roger TeStroete).

. One Holland Town Board member.

. One Amsterdam Park Board member.

. One citizen member of the Sheboygan County Recreational Facilities Management Advisory Committee.

. One board member from the Great Lakes Conservancy Inc.

. Three citizen members, preferably from nearby residents and/ or groups associated with the area (Sauk Trail Conservation Club and Cedar Grove Raptor Research Station).

. Sheboygan County Planning and Conservation Director Aaron Brault.

. Two citizen members nominated by the county administrator.

The appointments would be subject to approval by the full County Board.

County Administrator Adam Payne explained that the $4.2 million purchase was completed in conjunction with the Great Lakes Conservancy.

“That allows us to tap into a larger pool of Stewardship Funds,” to help the county recoup the purchase cost, Payne told the board.

The resolution creating the advisory committee said the longterm goal for the property would “include publicly accessible lowimpact recreational uses, such as educational interpretive hiking trails.”

One of the main motivations for the county’s purchase of the undeveloped land is to create a wetland mitigation bank.

That would enable the county to restore wetlands – at least 78 acres worth – and bank credits for those acres.

Wetlands that are restored under the mitigation program can be utilized to offset other wetland acreage that has to be filled in for public or private development projects. Any acreage that the county does not utilize for county projects can be sold either to other counties for public projects there or to private entities for projects that require filling existing wetlands.

Payne said the county may have to sell off two or three small parcels along the Lake Michigan shoreline that are part of the Amsterdam Dunes property due to deed restrictions and nearby residential development.

The annual report on the county’s financial statements from Dave Maccoux of Schenck SC led to a far-ranging discussion of the county’s bond rating and tax rate and tax levy history.

Supervisor Fay Uraynar triggered the discussion with a question to Maccoux about the county’s bond rating, which was downgraded by Moody’s Investors Services from Aa1 to Aa2 in May 2013, although Maccoux’s report dealt with the county’s budgeting and financial reporting and not its bond rating or issues.

Uraynar noted that Moody’s downgrade was attributed in part to four years of budget deficits, and added that the county had increased its property tax rate each of the last four years.

Finance Director Terry Hanson explained that the “operating deficits” cited by Moody’s in 2013 were transfers from the county’s reserves to balance the budget and reduce the tax levy in those years, done at the direction of the County Board.

Payne noted that Uraynar’s comment on tax rates was a common one from taxpayers. He insisted that the better measure of the county’s budget and spending is the property tax levy, which the county has decreased in four of the last seven years. “That’s the bottom line,” he stated.

Declining property values, which has been the case for the last several years, according to Payne, resulted in decreased tax levies and an increase in the property tax rate.

Payne also pointed out that even at Aa2, the county’s bond rating was in the top 10 percent of governments in the entire nation.

The Schenck report gave the county good marks for its budgeting process and financial status.


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