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Gary Doudna, owner of Buffalo Lake Camping Resort, spoke at Monday’s Executive Finance Committee meeting of the Marquette County Board.  He told County Board members that “the faces may have changed,” referring to changes on the county board, “but your responsibility has not.”   He said that Buffalo Lake is a resource and benefit to everyone in the county.  (Photo by Kathleen McGwin).

 

County Board cost share resolution for Buffalo Lake dam fails
Second special Executive Finance meeting called for October 30

 


County Board Supervisor Gerald Hebert requested a ballot vote when resolution #55-2012 came before the board at last Tuesday’s county board meeting.  The resolution authorized the county board to work with the State of Wisconsin to complete work on the repair and reconstruction of the Buffalo Lake dam and determine in separate resolution how to appropriate $142,855 in 2013 and $178,878 in 2014 for fuel, gravel, paving materials, signage, and pavement striping to complete road work for the project.  When asked why he was requesting a ballot vote he said because some supervisors may feel intimidated if they vote no in a roll call vote.  Ballot votes are taken on paper and the voting results read at the meeting, but not names of supervisors.  In roll call votes, supervisors verbally vote for or against a resolution.  The resolution failed with a tie vote of 8 for and 8 against with one supervisor absent.

Ballots are public documents and the County Clerk provided a copy of the vote upon request after the meeting.  Voting no to the resolution were Jan Banicki, Robin Buchholz, Shirley Floeter, Roger Goldsmith, Marvin Groskreutz, Gerald Hebert, Lyle Snyder and Mary Walters.  Yes votes were Frank Breitenbach, Dan Klawitter, Sherwin Lloyd, Bob Miller, Mike Raddatz, John Sheller, Peter Steuck, and Paul Wade.   Jack Johnston was absent.  

After the vote at the meeting, DNR representative Steve Miller was asked how this vote will affect the project.  He addressed the board and said, “I’m not sure.  We’re short $325,000.  Cost share is regularly done on DNR projects.”  He went on to say he hoped the board would reconsider and that he would do everything he could to see the project move forward.

Supervisor Mike Raddatz immediately moved for a special Executive Finance meeting that would invite all parties to discuss how the money can be acquired for the cost share portion of the county.  Hebert responded and said, “Now you can call a special meeting but you couldn’t call one earlier.  It’s sad and an embarrassment to the county board.”

Hebert and other county board members expressed concern that the board hadn’t heard about this expense until recently, however, in a November, 2011 report put out by the DNR that was made available to the public and discussed during at least one public meeting about the project, the request for local support for the road work was made clear.  This report, titled Request for A/E Services Montello Dam Reconstruction Project #:10C4L states:

Local Community Work (In-Kind donation)
See the below table detail as a representation of suggested work items to be accomplished by the local community.  This data was pulled from the said report.

In-Kind work in lieu of funding has been proposed and accepted by the DNR.  Plans and specification for this work will be developed by the A/E, in accordance with DSF standards for bidding by the local community.  The A/E will not be responsible for construction oversight of this work.

Embankment Restoration Option 4
1. Remove Existing Pavement - $3,900
2. Cleaning and Grubbing - $8,000
3. Roadwork - $218,845
4. Borrow Area Restoration - $22,500
5. Overhead and Contingency - $129,662
TOTAL = $382,907

In February of 2010, the first public meetings were held about the reconstruction and repair of the dam.  This was after a January, 2009 report from the dam safety engineers which was completed after the 2008 flooding, that stated that the dam had to be repaired, reconstructed or abandoned and removed by December of 2012.  At that meeting in February of 2010,  Tom Nigus from the DNR said, and it was reported by the Marquette County Tribune, that, “The DNR would look for available federal dollars, as well as state and local cost share”.  

This information, however, was not brought to the Executive Finance Committee for consideration for inclusion in the budget.  If there was a failure to bring the specific cost share dollars to the County Board earlier, contributing factors could be the June death of Howard Zellmer, past County Board Chair and the departure of County Administrative Coordinator Brent Miller who took a job with Brown County and left in June.  They had been the key people working closely with the DNR, Buffalo Lake Rehabilitation District and other stakeholders in this project from the beginning including the county’s share of costs. 

In a phone call this week, Gerry Hebert explained his stance on this issue.  He said that his first reason for opposing financial contribution by the county is because it would be setting a precedent for the county doing work on lakes and what is a State-owned and city-owned property.  “I don’t have a vengeance,” Hebert said. “And I didn’t call anyone up campaigning for them to vote against this, but Buffalo Lake is not the only tourist attraction in the county.”

The second reason Hebert raised the issue of the county share of this project is both the speed of this decision forced on the board as well as the county spending $350,000 on this project when they face two critical capital projects, one the emergency communications system for the county, and the fact that they just spent two days fighting to bring the budget into balance.  He said he has constituents and elected officials from two municipalities in his district that have been urging him to vote against the county spending this money for the Buffalo Lake project.

“This has been a scheme from the beginning,” he said.  “It was never thought through and kept changing.  I didn’t know anything about the $350,000 until it was brought up at highway committee about where they would get the money.”

Hebert said he’s against using highway money for the project because that money is for working on roads for all citizens.  He also said that taking highway workers off of other jobs reduces the time they can work for Towns and complete county road work.

The vote accomplished slowing the decision down, Hebert said.  He said if they voted yes, no one would have asked why the DNR is requiring State Highway specifications that will cost about $112,000 more than if they built the road according to County Road specifications which requires two versus four inches of asphalt.  “We all drive over county roads all the time,” he said. 

Another concern expressed at last week’s county board meeting was that other municipalities and the Buffalo Lake District have not stepped forward to help with this cost.  Supervisor Mike Raddatz, during the discussion of the resolution said that the Buffalo Lake District will have no weed cutting costs for the next two summers and should step forward with a share of the cost. No elected officials from the City of Montello were at the county board meeting.  The Town of Packwaukee has the highest assessed property values of the three municipalities that border the lake.  Town of Packwaukee assessed property value around the lake makes up 68%, Town of Montello 23% and City of Montello 8%.

County Board Chair Paul Wade said that Buffalo Lake properties generate $621,000 a year of property tax that would be reduced by at least 10% a year if the lake were no longer there.  County Supervisor John Sheller stated that, “If we turn down a nine million dollar project we can expect to never get another dime from the state.”  Taxpayers of Wisconsin, he said, are putting in $9 million and Marquette County is being asked to put in about $300,000.

Supervisor Bob Miller echoed Sheller’s remarks about Wisconsin tax payers putting in $9 million and reminded the board that the damage “was originally an act of God” when 18 inches of rain fell in 2008.  “If we can fix Montello” for “less than $200,000,” he felt they should do so.

Attorney Bill O’Connor stood up during the discussion of the resolution and informed the board that their concern that prevailing wage would have to be paid to workers hired to do the county share of the work was unfounded.  “I’m here to tell you,” he said, “that this project does not require prevailing wage.”

About a dozen people attended the meeting and two spoke up for the project.  One, a lake home owner, said that she knew of several home renovation projects put on hold because of uncertainty and said that the county would lose not only property tax, but other construction revenue if Buffalo Lake was not there.

A special Executive Finance Committee was held on Monday, October 22 about this issue.  About 30 people attended this meeting including Mike Ott, Mayor of Montello, Wayne Hein, Town of Montello Chair, al Rosenthal, Town of Packwaukee Supervisor and member of the Buffalo Lake District and Don Hall, Town of Packwaukee Chair. About eight people made comments before the Executive Finance Committee voted on sending Resolution #55-2012 back to the county board. 

Montello Mayor Mike Ott said that the city cannot afford to financially contribute to the project, but has agreed to provide management of the road and facilities for the next 25 years that would equal, he said, over a quarter million dollars of snow plowing, road maintenance, law enforcement and more.  County Supervisor Gerald Hebert questioned why that should be counted as contributing because the city presently does that so it would only be continuing what it has been doing.  Ott said that the city has not been mowing in recent years and the enhancements will mean more area to both plow and mow.

A Buffalo Lake District representative told the committee that the District has already paid $60,000 in attorney’s fees toward the project, to which Gerald Hebert replied, “It’s sad the District donated $60,000 on attorney fees when they could have spent that on the project.”  The Lake District also has agreed to take on necessary monitoring of the dam for the next 25 years.

Attorney Bill O’Connor, attorney for the Buffalo Lake District, took to the podium and held up a thick binder of correspondence and documents which he said represents over three years of work.  “It’s not a simple thing to get the state to commit over $9 million to a project,” he said.  “I’ve worked with the Wisconsin Lakes Association for 30 years and this project is unique.  It’s the largest capital project I’ve seen in my 30 years with the Association.”

Several people, including County Treasurer Diana Campbell, spoke about the loss of tax revenue if Buffalo Lake were not there.  A handout at the meeting showed that the tax assessor estimate of loss of property value would be 25% with $153,329 loss of tax levy per year.  A relator estimated the loss of property value to be 30 to 40%. 

Hebert pointed out that the dam could be repaired without the enhancements of road, parking, fishing pier, and boat launch.  Buffalo Lake could still be there without all the extra costs of this project.  He said that the County C boat landing could suffice and incorrectly stated that the boat landing on the dredge bank road had been open and was being used anyway.  As reported in the Marquette County Tribune, that landing was only opened at the end of the summer this year to allow property owners access for boat removal. 

Miller with the DNR said that the plan that is moving forward is the one that was preferred by citizens who attended the multiple public meetings as well as the Lake District, City and other representatives at those meetings.

Attorney O’Connor said that this project was put forward and approved by a Democratic Governor and Democratic legislature.  When Governor Walker was elected, there was concern that it would be taken off the table, but many people, including State Senator Luther Olsen (R) and State Representative Fred Clark (D) as well as State Representative Joan Ballweg (R), urged that it go forward.  It was felt that it would not do so without significant local support and that if there was not “enough skin in the game,” it would be stopped.  That’s when the county contribution and the 25-year commitments by the city and Lake District were developed.

“Some might think that it’s a bluff and that if the county doesn’t pay toward the project, that they’ll still go ahead and do it,” said O’Connor.  He went on to say that he had worked with legislators for years and has seen how easy it is for a legislator to see that money that might be available and put forth a proposal to take it off the construction list.  “It happens all the time,” he said. 

County Supervisor John Sheller said that he would hate to see multiple campgrounds, gas stations and other businesses die because some people do not want the county to pay 3% of the total project.  Russ Rainey from Johnson Boats and Motors said that he already has people who go elsewhere to fish because the only landing open on Buffalo Lake is on County C where it is crowded.  Sandy Wuteska, owner of Bay View and John Faulkner, owner of Sundowner Motel, both said their businesses will suffer.  Gary Doudna, owner of Buffalo Lake Camping Resort addressed the committee and said that the faces have changed, referring to changes on the board, but “your responsibility has not.”  He said that the DNR put this above all other projects and saw the great resource of Buffalo Lake.  He asked the board to support this project.

The Executive Finance Committee voted, with Gerald Hebert the only no vote, to pass the resolution back to the county board to reconsider.  They then discussed various ways to finance the county portion of the project.  Treasurer Campbell said that financing the entire $300,000 would mean a 2¢ per thousand assessment making the assessment on a $100,000 home $2.00.  Raddatz said there were five ways they could think of finding this money.  One was a 1.5¢ increase in sales tax; another was to borrow from Fund 29, a highway fund, and pay that back with interest (Commissioner Brendon Rhinehart said there is only $70,000 available in that fund); or borrow the money from the general fund or State trust fund; seek part of the money from the Lake Association and City of Montello; or put a special one-time assessment of $24.52 on each of the 13,123 property owners in the county who hold 22,945 parcels of land.

Supervisor Sherwin Lloyd made a motion that was seconded to borrow the money from the trust fund and pay it back over five years.  Hebert was the lone dissenting vote.  Corporate Counsel Ben Bult reminded the committee that borrowing money takes a 2/3 vote of the full county board to pass.

The committee agreed to meet again Tuesday, October 30 at 7 PM to continue this discussion.  The committee did not move on the suggestion, made by at least two citizens, that they remove the Welcome to Marquette County sign on Highway 22 and replace it with Keep Out.