Board OKs highway facility land purchase

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – Turning back an effort to refer it to a third committee, the County Board Tuesday approved the purchase of land in the town of Plymouth for a new Highway Department operations center.

The 36.4-acre parcel at the southwest corner of the intersection of State 67 and County J will cost the county $548,600. The county will replace the current Elkhart Lake and Plymouth highway sheds, along with the Highway Department headquarters building in the city of Sheboygan on the parcel.

Supervisor Jim Baumgart moved to refer the purchase, which had been approved unanimously by the board’s Transportation and Finance committees, to the Planning, Resources, Agriculture and Extension Committee for further study and recommendation.

“The effort to consolidate operations and create efficiencies is always a worthwhile effort and should be commended,” Baumgart conceded. “But in the process we’re leaving out part of the County Board (and) that is worrisome.”

Baumgart noted that the land being purchased is currently farmland.

“The purpose (of the PRAE Committee) is to preserve ag land and encourage smart growth,” Baumgart pointed out. “They should have had some bearing on the question of urban sprawl and farmland preservation, but that hasn’t been done. What could the PRAE Committee have added? We’ll never know.”

County Administrator Adam Payne responded that county Planning and Resources Director Aaron Brault had been involved in the land purchase process and had reported to the PRAE Committee on the plans.

“I really do think there has been a lot of due diligence,” done on the purchase, Payne continued. “I think we’ve been very transparent about this. You don’t need to be invited to the dance. Any supervisor can attend any (committee) meeting.”

PRAE Committee Chair Supervisor Keith Abler confirmed that his committee had been apprised of the Highway Department plans throughout the process.

“There’s still a lot of hoops to jump through, but we’re seeing the urgency of purchasing this property,” he stated.

“All land starts from farm land,” Supervisor Alan Bosman pointed out. “This is a great location from a transportation corridor access viewpoint.”

“It’s not like Sheboygan County has been a wastrel of county land,” Supervisor George Marthenze stated. “We’ve been good stewards of farm land over the years.”

He referenced the county’s recent purchase of the 333-acre Amsterdam Dunes property, a portion of which will be maintained as farm land and another portion of which will become a wetland mitigation bank.

Supervisor Charles Conrardy noted that the county has been looking at developing a new Highway Department operations center more in the center of the county for at least 10 years.

“This is not the time to put it off,” he commented, pointing out that land prices will only rise over time. “This is a good thing for the Highway Department and a good thing for the city of Sheboygan, to get those (Highway Department) trucks out of there running in and out of the city.”

In the end, Baumgart’s motion failed by a vote 21-1, with only Baumgart voting in favor and supervisors Henry Nelson, Libby Ogea and Robert Ziegelbauer absent. The motion then passed by a 21-1 vote, with Baumgart in opposition.

The board earlier had approved the appointment of Nelson to the District 6 seat vacated by the resignation of Kris Wheeler.

Nelson had represented the district earlier until he moved out of the district in 2008, when Wheeler won the seat. The redistricting of the board after the 2010 census resulted in Nelson’s home being relocated back in the district, he wrote in his letter seeking the appointment.

Bryan Grunewald of Schenck SC presented the county’s 2014 financial statements to the board, noting the county’s overall strong financial picture.

However, in his administrator’s report to the board, Payne warned that the county continues to face budget and revenue restraints.

He noted that the Finance Committee had recently endorsed increasing the county’s self-imposed limit on capital project spending from $4 million a year to $5.5 million a year.

“Even at $5.5 million (a year), we still had to make some reductions in capital projects,” Payne noted. As an example, he noted that the Highway Department is still not able to meet the 30 miles a year of road overlay countywide that is necessary to keep up with all of the county’s roads.

“I do not want to push off cost to my kids and grandkids that we should responsibly be taking care of today,” Payne stated. “We have to look at our revenues.”

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