County Board approves 2016 budget

Attempt to delete armored rescue vehicle purchase turned back
by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – A last-minute attempt to remove an armored rescue vehicle for the Sheriff’s Department from the 2016 county budget failed Tuesday.

The board approved the $128,569,896 budget – an increase in spending of 2.86 percent over 2015 - which includes a 2.87 percent increase in the property tax levy and a 2.27 percent increase in the property tax rate.

The vote on the budget was 20-2, with supervisors Terry Abler, Charles Conrardy and Fran Damp absent and supervisors Fay Uraynar and Jim Baumgart voting no.

It was Uraynar and Baumgart who led the unsuccessful attempt to delete a $235,000 Lenco Bearcat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) armored rescue vehicle from the budget.

Uraynar first raised the issue a week earlier during the board’s initial review of the budget, terming it at that time “a Bradleytype armored vehicle.”

“It is a rescue vehicle,” Sheriff Michael Helmke emphasized to the board Tuesday. “When we need it, we need it. I’m hoping we never do, but we want to ensure the safety of the men and women who are doing dangerous work in dangerous times. I don’t want to see us have any military presence. This isn’t going into any parade.”

The department has received commitments for $90,000 in donations from local companies or businesses to cover a portion of the cost of the vehicle. The remainder, County Administrator Adam Payne pointed out, will be covered out of unspent money from the department’s 2014 and 2015 budgets. There will be no 2016 tax levy money going toward the purchase, he added.

“The bottom line is it’s still taxpayers’ money,” Uraynar countered. “It’s going to be taxpayers’ money to store, maintain and train people to use it.”

She proposed that the Sheriff’s Department reserve funds earmarked for the purchase instead be used to reduce the property tax levy.

“This will be a piece of equipment the Sheriff’s Department will use, just like any other piece of equipment they use, to protect the safety and security of the citizens of Sheboygan County,” Supervisor Thomas Epping commented.

Baumgart questioned whether the solicitation of funds for the vehicle by the department might have been illegal or unethical.

But both Payne and Epping responded that the county has partnered with the private sector on financing many other projects. Epping cited the Plymouth Police Department’s recent successful fund-raising campaign for a K-9 unit and said, “Private money can be raised for items like this.”

While conceding that the Bearcat would not be armed, Uraynar noted that it is capable of carrying armaments and could be armed in the future.

“What I’m hearing from citizens is that this is overkill,” she stated. “It’s important to not hide what we’re actually purchasing here. It’s listed on the (Lenco) website as an attack and rescue vehicle.”

Supervisor Roger Otten agreed, saying, “I think it’s something over the top.”

“This vehicle has more in common with the armored vehicles that come to the Administration Building at tax time to pick up tax payments,” Supervisor George Marthenze responded. “It has no offensive capabilities and will have no offensive weapons on it.”

Supervisor Brian Hoffmann admitted he was troubled by the purchase of the vehicle, but said that, in the end, “I think we have to support the sheriff when this is what he says he needs. We seem to forget that these people are highly-trained.”

“They’re asking us for a tool and now we’re reallocating funds to give them the tool they need,” Payne added.

Helmke noted that the nearest similar vehicle is in Winnebago County and told supervisors he did not want to risk lives waiting for that to reach a scene in Sheboygan County.

He cited an incident in the city of Sheboygan several years ago when an individual shot his father and then headed out into a city street with his weapon, shooting at and threatening to kill police officers who responded as well as others.

An armored rescue vehicle would have aided in that incident, said Helmke, who was with the Sheboygan Police Department at the time of that incident. “I see this as proactive,” he said of the Bearcat.

The board defeated Uraynar’s motion to delete the vehicle purchase, with Uraynar, Baumgart and Otten voting no.

In voting against the overall budget, Uraynar said she was opposed to any increase in the tax levy and tax rate.

“The law put a cap on things so we won’t just continue to raise taxes,” Uraynar stated. “Every year I’ve been on the board we’ve raised taxes to the maximum allowed by law.”

During the public address portion of the agenda, the board heard from a former colleague, John Van der Male.

The former administrator of the nowclosed Comprehensive Health Care Center urged the county consider building a new county hospital “so the mentally ill will get the services they so desperately need.

“We have mentally ill on our streets. We have mentally ill in group homes that have difficulty handling them. We have mentally ill living with their families who have difficulty handling them,” Van der Male told the supervisors.

Sheboygan attorney Lisa Stengel also addressed the board, supporting Van der Male’s call for a new county hospital.

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