Resolutions for financing the county, adopting a levy for 2021 and providing for the sale of $25 million general obligation highway department bonds were approved by the Barron County Board of Supervisors at its Nov. 2 meeting that immediately followed a budget hearing.
The levy is $22.1 million, up from $21.9 million last year, but the mill rate dropped from $5.05 last year to $4.87 this year due to savings from its self-funded health policy and increases in valuations and sales tax revenue.
Approval of the $67 million budget was not unanimous, and an objection to adding a full-time patrol officer caused the board chair to call a 10-minute recess to consult with the county’s corporation counsel on how to proceed.
The board then voted 21-7 against Supervisor Bob Rogers’ objection followed by a 22-6 vote to approve the budget as presented. Rogers asked that the county wait a year before approving the additional full-time officer.
Opposed to the addition of a full-time recreation officer in the Sheriff’s Department while a 2-year moratorium on hiring was supposed to be in place were Supervisors Rogers, Gary Taxdahl, Bob Anderson, Tod Gerland, John Banks, Bill Schradle and Jerry McRoberts. McRoberts switched his position on the second vote. Supervisor Don Horstman was absent.
Supervisor Gary Taxdahl agreed with Rogers, saying that it was not an emergency to add the position and could have waited.
Supervisor Jim Gores said he thought the recreation officer was already a full-time position and that with the increase in ATV use during “this COVID thing” there is a need to have that position be full time.
Supervisor Bill Schradle was against it because it would “set a poor precedent” for other departments.
Supervisor Bob Anderson suggested with less need for officers in the court due to fewer in-person appearances and fewer inmates to monitor in the jail because of COVID, there should be a way to shuffle the staff that already exists.
“I do believe it should be a 100% position but there’s enough staff,” he said. Deputy Jason Leu replied, “We are using people wherever we can. We just don’t have the staff.”
Supervisor Bun Hanson said COVID was keeping people out of court and onto ATVs. “The miles we have now need attention,” he said. “It’s a big deal for tourism, and I think we need to do it right.”
Supervisor Peter Olson remarked, “We need to be flexible and act within reason. When I look at the number of increased trails, I support this position. To me it is a public safety concern.”
Supervisor Terry Lee, who serves on the Economic Development Board, said the position “is probably needed.”
Supervisor Dana Heller said UTVs and ATVs have been so prevalent, as well as boating and snowmobiling in season, that to him the position is warranted.
Before the vote authorizing the sale of bonds for the proposed $25 million highway shop upgrade, the supervisors saw design plans. That measure passed with 28 yes and one no, due to an absence.
In the public comment section of the meeting, four women spoke asking that the county restore its funding to Embrace, a domestic abuse shelter that serves a four-county area.
Virginia Gelineau of Rice Lake said the county’s action to withhold its funding looked different than the nondiscrimination policy on its website.
Clarice Baumgartner of Cumberland asked that funding be returned because there is pride in being Barron County Strong and citizens have a responsibility to each other.
“We have to do the best, the way we always have for each other,” she said. “We can’t have second best when people’s lives are on the line.”
Anna DeMers of Rice Lake said the county needs to collaborate with those who have expertise in systemic trauma, have transparency as is part of the county’s mission statement and be responsive to all of its citizens.
Lindsay Ringwelski of Rice Lake said she’d like to know that her tax dollars are being used in the best way possible and requested that its decisions be transparent.
They were informed that negotations are in progress for restoration of the funds.