December 28, 2011 | 07:47 AMThe county budget went up slightly, the average tax rate for county purposes went down slightly and the county property values still haven't fully recovered.
Incumbent county supervisors orphaned in a third incumbent's district were returned home safely when the County Board approved an alternative redistricting plan.
And those guilty of a third OWI offense will have the option of staying out of jail, as long as they stay in a tough training program designed to keep them from a fourth OWI offense.
Up just a smidge
Walworth County's tax levy increased by 0.14 percent, the lowest increase since 1996.
"It was a challenge from the state of Wisconsin to essentially freeze our levy," said County Administrator David Bretl. "It was not an easy budget to put together."
The Walworth County Board approved the levy and budget Nov. 8.
The proposed total county levy for 2012 is $60.9 million, compared to $60.8 million in 2011, an actual difference of $86,624.
The estimated tax rate for 2012 is $4.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a decrease of 2 cents compared to 2011's rate of $4.28 per $1,000.
While the levy increased only ever so slightly, Walworth County's tax base took another hit.
The county's equalized assessed value was down 1.12 percent to $14.3 billion from $14.45 billion last year, which was 3.59 percent lower than the year before.
Overall, county valuations have dropped about $700 million over the past two years, according to county figures. The county's assessed valuation does not include Tax Increment Finance districts.
As the economy continued to drag along, the county found it necessary to cut employees.
This year's budget provides funding for about 809 full-time equivalent workers. That's down about 13.8 full-time equivalent positions from last year.
A large share of the employee cuts will be in the Sheriff's Office, where two vacant positions in the corrections department have already been cut and there are plans to cut eight more positions through attrition by July 2012.
Home again, home again …
Two Walworth County supervisors were returned to their home districts after it appeared they might have to run against each other and a third incumbent for re-election.
On Aug. 9, the Walworth County Board voted 8-1 to adjust County Board district lines to return Supervisor David Weber to District 7 and Supervisor Dan Kilkenny to District 8.
The district line adjustments also depended on the Darien and Delavan town boards agreeing to redraw a few ward lines to conform to the new districts. They agreed to do so.
The changes affected no more than 30 to 35 people in each County Board district.
County Board district lines are redrawn every 10 years after the decennial census to reflect changes and shifts in county population.
In a process that tried to squeeze as much politics out of redistricting as possible, the supervisors agreed to a redistricting process that squeezed two incumbent supervisors, Kilkenny and Weber, out of their home districts and into District 5, represented by Supervisor Carl Redenius.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), which was charged with the redistricting, was directed by the County Board to disregard the home addresses of incumbent supervisors.
SEWRPC's recommended redistricting plan was handed to the County Board in May.
The final result recommended by SEWRPC and approved by the board surprised everyone, particularly Weber, Kilkenny and Redenius.
Despite objections from the three supervisors, the board voted 6-4 in May to accept the new county district alignments. However, some of the supervisors who voted for the new district lines began to reconsider.
By August, after a review of some of SEWRPC's alternative plans by Redenius, county supervisors began to relent.
The changes needed to put the supervisors back into their home districts were "a very small increment of relief," said County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell.
"I came to the conclusion that it wasn't going to hurt anyone," she said.
It's been a while since Highway 50 has been resurfaced, and on Sept. 28, the state Department of Transportation showed up at Williams Bay High School with their tentative project plans.
The DOT sponsored the meeting to present its proposed improvements on Highway 50 between Lake Geneva and Williams Bay and on Highway 67 between Williams Bay and Elkhorn.
Designers are still completing environmental documents and preliminary drafts before a final design is completed next year.
Not everyone was happy with the preliminary plans.
Rob Pesche, owner of Pesche's Greenhouse, W4080 Hwy 50, said he was concerned about DOT's plans to close off access to his parking lot from Highway 50.
His greenhouse business is about three miles west of Lake Geneva on the north side of the highway.
The business has another entrance off South Como Road, but the road is narrow, making it difficult for semi-tractor trailers to make the turn.
Work on 3.5 miles of Highway 50 will be from the western Lake Geneva city limit to just beyond the Geneva Street intersection at the northeast village limit of Williams Bay.
The work is expected to start in the spring or early summer of 2013, with work being completed in the fall of that year.
Work on 3.3 miles of Highway 67 is scheduled to begin in spring or early summer of 2014, with completion that fall.
Both stretches of highway will be milled and resurfaced.
On Highway 50, a hill at Cisco Road will be cut down to improve sight lines for about 600 feet in either direction.
Turning lanes will be added at the intersections and some median openings will be revised. Culvert pipe will be replaced and 2 more feet of shoulder will be paved, to increase shoulder width to 5 feet.
New signs and pavement markings will be added.
Highway 67 will be resurfaced from Highway 50 north to Commerce Drive in Elkhorn.
In addition to milling and resurfacing, the Highway 67 project will include widening paved shoulders from 2 to 5 feet, adding dedicated right turn lanes at the intersections, adding bicycle lanes, replacing guard rails and culvert and adding new signs and pavement markings.
Cost estimates for the projects were not available.
To their health
Since Oct. 4, Walworth County residents arrested in Walworth County for a third OWI now have an opportunity to enroll in Walworth County's OWI Court.
The program is intended to reduce recidivism.
Walworth County Circuit Judge David Reddy, an early supporter of the program, said that in addition to helping persons with alcohol and drug dependencies come to grips with their addictions, the program also promises to reduce the amount of time and bed space third-offense OWI offenders take up in the county jail. That will reduce daily expenses and push back the time when the county will have to either add on to its correctional facility or build a new one.
OWI defendants still have the right to refuse the treatment program and allow the OWI charge to play out in court, said District Attorney Phil Koss.
The 48-week course involves the cooperation from a number of different agencies.
The DA's office, the public defenders office, probation and parole, human resources, law enforcement and in particular the jail, all cooperate to make the program work.
"A judge ultimately determines the final direction of treatment, but it is a team approach," Reddy said.
Participation is limited to three-time OWI offenders because the law provides incentives, Reddy said.
Jail time can be cut, mandatory fines and costs can be reduced to the minimum and license revocation will be for the minimum time.
Reddy has said he expects 90 participants a year in the program.
To participate, an OWI defendant must be a Walworth County resident whose third offense happened in Walworth County. The first two convictions can be from anywhere, Reddy said.
The defendant has to plead guilty and agree to abide by the program requirements.
Those accepted into the program receive two years probation with the possibility of early release.
The participant will spend the first two days in jail.
For the first 24 weeks, the participant will also have to attend OWI court review hearings every other Tuesday.
The participant will also have to seek and maintain employment or do 20 hours of community service per week.
Participants will also be expected to pay a stipend to help offset the cost of the program.
However, much of the program's cost is supported in the county budget.
Arrest for another OWI is automatic removal from the program.
Those who complete the program might still have to complete their 24 month probationary periods, with monthly visits to a case manager.
The OWI Court program is based on the county's existing CATE program, which stands for Commitment Accountability Treatment Evaluation program.
The CATE program was developed by Dr. David Thompson of the county's Health & Human Services Department.
However, participants have to pay their way through the program.
Better late than foreclosed
A late start to Lake Lawn Resort's summer season didn't slow the flow of guests who were just happy to see the venerable vacation lodge reopened.
The resort opened its guest rooms late July, along with the fitness center, the gift shop and the Frontier Restaurant
The golf course, the Lookout Bar and Eatery, pools and marina were opened earlier.
The resort was closed since December 2010 after being sold at sheriff's auction.
Nearly 300 full- and part-time Lake Lawn employees lost their jobs.
Jim Drescher, a local businessman and philanthropist, put together a team of investors to buy the property and worked closely with the city of Delavan to get the deal done.
After months of negotiations, the consortium of buyers headed by Drescher, signed papers to buy the resort for $9.5 million from as many as 13 banks listed as stakeholders in the foreclosed property.
Drescher's group raised about $12 million to buy and renovate the lodge.
They took over the property in March and then worked hard to get the lodge opened for at least part of the summer.
Located on Delavan Lake, the lodge has a 132-year history, and is located on one of the original wintering sites used by traveling circuses.
Drescher said the primary focus at Lake Lawn is to create jobs, preserve one of Walworth County's important assets and to provide guests with top-notch service.
Unclogging the filter
Cleaner, clearer water in Delavan Lake should result from the Delavan Inlet Dredging Project, completed in November.
Begun in July, the $1.46 million project, removed thousands of pounds of silt and sediment that had built up in and along a 3,000-foot section of the Delavan Lake Inlet, a 210-acre wetland that filters topsoil, fertilizer and sediment from the water that flows into the lake.
Successful completion of the project is expected to restore the inlet's ability to filter out eroded topsoil and nutrients that now enter the lake through Jackson Creek.
It will also restore boating access into the inlet area and the lake.
In 2008, the Delavan Town Lake Committee took the initiative and spearheaded the effort to renovate and rebuild three of the primary features of the 1989 lake rehabilitation project.
Most of the project cost of $1.46 million is being paid by the town of Delavan,
The town's share is $1.34 million in local taxes, with the city of Delavan contributing $125,000 and the Wisconsin Waterway Commission contributing $100,000.
The town of Delavan is bearing most of the cost because most of the inlet is within the town.
A small part is along Lake Lawn Resort, which is in the city of Delavan, and the city has contributed a portion of the costs as well, he said.
While the project price tag is high, the price of not doing the dredging would be even higher, said Ryan Simons, Delavan Town Board chairman.
"This is something we need to do," Simons said of the dredging. It will be paid for through borrowing."
Some room tax money was also used to help pay for the work, he said.
And in 10 to 15 years, it's a project the town will have to do again
In 2005, a study conducted by the Fiscal and Economic Research Group at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater found that Delavan Lake generates about $77 million in local spending annually.
It also supports 812 jobs and $17 million in direct labor income.
The researchers found that business and property values are directly tied to Delavan Lake's water quality.
If water quality decreases, business and property values also tend to decrease, the report said.