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Internet exclusive: Williams Bay candidates

Races for Village President and School Board

March 30, 2011 | 10:56 AM
The following are candidate questions and answers for the Williams Bay Village President race and the race for the Williams Bay School board. Some questions and answers did not appear in the March 31 Lake Geneva Regional News for space reasons. In the case of questions that did appear, many of the answers were cut and edited to fit the available space. Here the answers are uncut and unedited.

Race for Williams Bay Village President, candidates Don Wehyrauch (I) and John Marra. Four questions.

Does Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy need protection from an outside group like the Geneva Lake Conservancy, or can the village guarantee the Kishwauketoe conservancy will be defended against development into the foreseeable future? (Did not appear in LGRN.)

Don Weyhrauch (I)

I have never believed that the village needs an outside group to protect KNC. As a village, we cannot completely guarantee the action of future boards, but this board will certainly oppose any commercial development of this village-owned treasure. KNC is run by a group of volunteers and a board that is appointed. They give of their time and I hope that some of these young volunteers will, hopefully, aspire to some village office. With this n mind, I have the utmost confidence that the young people of this community will maintain KNC as is.

The Lake Geneva Land Conservancy, a fine organization to be sure, but I would like to keep complete control with the village board only. That's what was promised in 1990 and that's what should be done now and in the future. At a recent meeting, an attorney for the LCLC told our Plan Commission that it is not really needed at this time, by the thought it would be a good idea. I do not. We should have the moral fiber, as a board, to do what is right and that means develop KNC as a Nature Preserve and nothing else.

How best to keep it solely under the village's control? We have asked out attorney to give us some options for us to keep and ensure village taxpayers are the only ones to administrate this asset. We will look at these options soon and giver the protection the KNC board is looking for.

John Marra

Being a longtime resident and having witnessed the development of this historic and now very identifiable land within our village, I am presently and remain highly confident that any future board would fully realize the importance of protecting the current preservation of this valuable land and safeguard it for both present and future generations of those now living or who will in the future chose Williams Bay as their home. As such I feel confident that future leaders, myself included if I am elected President would always exercise sound and responsible judgment in keeping this property intact and used for the purpose it was initially created for, thus I do not feel it would be necessary for an "outside groups such as the conservancy to be involved at this time.

Should the village encourage business growth in a tough economy? If so, how and what type? (Answers unedited.)

Don Weyhrauch (I)

The village has and always will encourage business growth in ANY economy, and not just a tough economy. The village's Business Association (WBBA) is a very active group, which I have supported since their inception. Each year the village budgets $3,000 for the WBBA. / I have always believed the WBBA should have some voice in the direction the village takes in respect to business growth.

I don't believe it's the job of the president to say the exact route we should take here, but to encourage and be part of the decision process. Ready to implement whatever plan the WBBA, the village board and the plan commission agree upon.

We have explored more than a few options for the upgrade of our downtown, district and the discussion still continues today. I will completely support the plan that comes from the process and take swift action to implement it.

Public parking for visitors to Williams Bay and putting in place the correct zoning are the items currently on my personal agenda. Without a place to park and without the correct zoning, it will be difficult to attract business growth.

John Marra

In my opinion business, growth in any community is always a positive sign from both a visual and financial standpoint and is reflective on how the village is viewed by our residents, the general public and other prospective and desirable businesses considering new start up or relocation of their existing businesses here. Regarding the types of businesses, they should reflect a "small town flair look " and that meet the desired wants and needs expressed by the majority of our residents that would also enhance the present business district in a "positive manner" they should also in my opinion provide both quality in product, service and consumer satisfaction and whose philosophies would be to join forces with our existing Williams Bay Business Association in maintaining and adding to their strong commitment of commercial stability and continued growth and prosperity, which would in turn create a mutual benefit to both our business district as well as to provide a boost to the economy and tax base to our village.

The governor's proposed budget promises to cut local government revenues. What would be your general plan to deal with these issues? (Did not appear in LGRN.)

Don Weyhrauch (I)

I have read the governor's repair bill (all 144 pages of it) and the measure our legislators have recently adopted (Act 10). We know this law will cut back some revenues and any loss of revenue hurts, but as we have in the past, I hope we will be able to provide the services we currently enjoy without increasing our levy. Whether we can or not, remains to be seen, but this is the approach I will take. No cut in services - no increase in levy. Our village board as always met these type of challenges head on and found the finances necessary to keep business normal without change.

I have been in discussion with (State) Senator (Neal) Kedzie (R-LaGrange) and he has promised to keep in touch as State revenues are being cut (and) how they affect our village.

John Marra

I, both as a resident and taxpayer and current candidate for village president of Williams Bay have and continue to follow closely the budget issue as it unfolds almost on a daily basis as to what has already been implemented and what is still to come, some early calculations being rumored at this time appear to suggest a total decrease of somewhere in the area of $200 million dollars in shared revenue for towns, villages, and cities in the State of Wisconsin. With these projected amounts being considered my plan if elected would be straight forward and simple, first and foremost it would be to meet with and firmly stress to the present and newly elected members of the Village Board and every department head the total and "absolute importance" of regardless what transpires over the next few weeks and months that cuts are coming and that it will be imperative to work together as a unified team to find ways to absorb the projected cuts without raising taxes. This is vitally important because my understanding of the overall budget bill as it currently exists, also contains some provisions for a property tax freeze on the horizon, thus common sense and mutual cooperation of all will be paramount to our future.

Is the village heading in the right direction? How does Williams Bay get back on course? Or, how do does Williams Bay stay on track? (Answers unedited.)

Don Weyhrauch (I)

I believe the village is heading in the right direction. Why do I say that? Several reasons, at the county website, they report that Williams Bay has the eighth lowest taxes on home assessed at $100,000.

We balance our budget every year.

We have 270 line items in our budget and we continuously monitor every one. Our local tax rate is $2.42 per $1,000 of assessed value. A home valued at $200,000 pays only $484 in local taxes, or $1.33 a day. What do you get for $1.33 a day?

Twenty-four hour police protection, fire department, rescue squad, dive team, curbside collection of recyclables and refuse, snow removal, well-maintained parks and lakefront, municipal court, building inspection department, curbside leaf pick up, street rehabilitation, park district, library Geneva Lake agencies: Water Safety Patrol, Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, Geneva Lake Law Enforcement Agency and much more.

Our levy has increased only 11.89 percent in the last 15 years.

Compare that with the Williams bay School District (up 72 percent) Walworth County (up 154 percent), Gateway Technical College (up 139 percent0 and state of Wisconsin (up 130 percent.)

Public service is not easy. It's hard. Just when you think all is solved, someone will throw you a curve. You have your opinions and beliefs, but you have to respect the citizen who comes up top you and says "You're wrong! Do it this way!" this is how I have always governed over the past decade — run this village to include all citizens and obtain their thoughts. Only then can you make an informed decision — by inclusion.

John Marra

I feel, generally, that our village, although it remains stable at present, is not moving in the right direction. I say this based upon what I see personally. There has been little to no progress in completing some issues of the master plan that was put into place back in 1999. Most notably is the lack of development in our downtown area, i.e. aging and deteriorating infrastructures and roads which still exist in some areas of the village. In spite of the valiant and dedicated efforts of our public works department to maintain them, I feel that have reached a crisis point. What is of further immediate concern is the consideration on the part of the Village Board for future borrowing of funds. I feel this is a potentially risky option at this time. There are still large amount of monies owed by the village in outstanding financial obligations. Due to this situation some roadway projects may have to be delayed or abandoned for an undetermined time period. This issue and how it was allowed to happen must be revisited and re-examined by the Village Board to devise a corrected course of action so that it does not reoccur.

Race for Williams Bay School Board, two seats, candidates Jim Pfeil (I), Richard J. Chroust, Bill Myers and Lynne Landgraf. Four questions.

Should the district consider going to referendum next year to raise its revenue cap in an effort to cover at least some of the district's budget shortfall? (Answers unedited.)

Jim Pfeil

As much as I'd like to promise that another referendum would not be presented, it cannot be ruled out. Projections show deficits going forward which will deplete the 2003 referendum revenue reserve. We are cutting staff now to balance the budget for 2011-12, but more cuts will be needed in future years. The wildcard in the budget / referendum process is the new legislation in Madison. We just don't know what the final impact will be, and may not know for months. Overall, I look at our current budget situation and cuts as an opportunity to analyze our strengths and weaknesses so we can develop a plan for the next 5-10 years. We need to decide what our core competencies are and build around those.

Richard Chroust

Before a referendum can be considered, we must first determine how the recently passed state budget repair bill will impact the school district's deficit. We know, for example, that based on the current school district budget and staffing the wi8llaims bay School district expenses would be reduced by well over $250,000 if employees, as called for in the repair bills, contributed 5.8 percent of their salary towards their retirement fund and 12.6 percent of the cost of their health insurance.

The next step, which none of us can answer yet, is what effect the next two-year state budget will have on our school district. We can assume there will be reductions in state aid, but until a budget is passed, we can't be certain of the amount.

Having said that, I believe the district needs to take a close look at the district needs going forward. First and foremost, these needs must be identified in a comprehensive 3-5 year plan and, front and center, the future of the elementary school needs to be part of that plan and known to voters prior to any consideration of a referendum.

I believe more needs to be done in terms of looking for ways to reduce expenses other than in programs and in staff. Based on my years of experience as a Williams bay Village Trustee, I would urge my fellow school board members and administration to adopt a zero-based budget process so that we can indeed assure ourselves our needs are being met, that unnecessary expenditures aren't continued from year to year and that we can make realistic projections for future year expenses.

Bill Myers

The district needs to evaluate and consider every option on both the revenue and the expense sides of the equation. Referendum may be a necessary solution to the shortfall, but it should not be presented again to the voters without a thorough analysis of every other option, and well thought out, complete plan addressing the future of the district. Raising taxes should not be considered lightly, and voters want and deserve some assurance that, if a referendum is presented, that they won't be asked again in another few years. The pressing challenge at hand for the board right now is to explore every funding option, evaluate every expense, generate a sustainable plan for the future, and then clearly and completely communicate that to every homeowner in Williams Bay.

Lynne Landgraf

At this point, we need to consider all our options. It is still somewhat uncertain what the direct effects of the budget repair bill will have on our schools. Our budget deficit issue will not automatically go away with the changes in state funding and revenue caps. At some point, we will be going to the community and asking for additional funds for the school. When we do, it is my goal that we have clear and accurate information as to what these funds will be going for, and how long the school district will be asking for the additional money. The voters made it clear last fall that the school district has to do a better job of communicating, as well as informing the parents and community what cuts have been made or programs that have to be trimmed down in an effort to save money.

Can Williams Bay continue to afford it's own school district? (Question did not run in LGRN.)

Jim Pfeil (I)

I do believe we can afford our own school system. We have great resources in our community and a strong value system in our community that recognizes the importance of education. In my opinion, it boils down to planning, priorities, and people. We, as a community, must decide the priorities of the school system. Together, we'll make a 5-10 year plan on how we will get there. Lastly, we need to make sure we have the right people on the staff driving these priorities. I believe we are moving in the right direction on all of these issues. Yes, the failed referendum and staff cuts are a step backwards. However, I believe that to be temporary and that moving forward, we'll be a better district.

Richard Chroust

Short term, the answer depends on the savings that may be realized in labors costs and other minor program cuts. Longer term, the real answer will be in the comprehensive 3-5 years plan we will develop.

I do believe we should be working collaboratively with other school districts to see what savings may accrue to all of us. Some questions that could be answered by working cooperatively would be (1) Is there a possibility to share administrative, accounting or business services personnel? (2) Can we share additional teaches in subject areas where we all share a need but can't necessarily afford a full-time position? (3) Can we create a large enough group to gain savings through our collective purchasing power, including big cost issues, such as health insurance?

Bill Myers

I hope so. We have a great thing in our own district. I appreciate and enjoy the sense of safety and community that we have now, and our schools are doing a great job at delivering a quality education to our kids. As a candidate, I feel ill equipped to fairly answer this question, but it will be one that the board needs to evaluate it as a part of the necessary scrutiny of every expense and funding option.

Lynne Landgraf

I believe we can maintain the commitment our community made more than 90 years ago: to provide a quality education for the children of Williams Bay. These are tough economic times and school districts across the county are facing tough challenges. We need to be more flexible, resourceful and we need to move forward. Eliminating our schools doesn't necessarily mean lower taxes, in all likelihood they will increase by joining other districts in our area.

How open are you to the possibility of district consolidation? Are there other options? (Answers unedited.)

Jim Pfeil (I)

Should consolidation be talked about? Sure. Does it solve any money problems? That's the unknown. There are several factors involved. First is which district to look at. Would it be Lake Geneva, Big Foot, Delavan, or Elkhorn? Legally, it is unclear what we could do. Another factor is money. How much debt service do the other districts have? What are their finances? We don't have that information. There may be no savings in doing it and (it may) actually (result in) a tax increase. Education is the main factor. It has been proven that Williams Bay produces high achieving students. Do we have all the class options as others, no? But when it comes to ACT scores, the proof is plain to see. Bigger isn't necessarily better. We do need to study this topic but with the other issues on our plate right now, this is not a high priority.

Richard Chroust

These are very timely and important issues. As a matter of fact, Dr. (Fred) Vorlop, Williams Bay School District Administrator, and the current Williams Bay School Board have identified this on the first page of their long-range plan dates Feb. 22, 2011.

The plan states that the district should explore issues related to school district consolidation. As part of this study, to be completed in 2012, the district will (1) investigate and monitor state funding and rules and regulations concerning consolidation, and (2) compare costs and benefits of consolidation with those of maintaining a local school district.

I support this effort in its entirety and believe it will lead us to the correct decision concerning district consolidation.

As for other options, let's explore the consolidation issue first.

Bill Myers

I'm open to discussing and considering everything. However, at least on the surface, I would not want to see Williams Bay consolidated into a larger district. One of our strengths is the access and relationships that our parents are able to have with the faculty and staff. Those relationships have a very positive effect on our children's education, and that may be lost through consolidation. Other important factors like autonomy in staff and faculty selection may also be lost. All of that said, and to reiterate the answer to the first question, every option needs to be assessed and evaluated in order to move the Williams Bay School district forward in a strong and sustainable position.

Lynne Landgraf

In times such as these I believe we have to look at all viable options to continue the excellence in education our community has been known for and our parents expect. I think everything is on the table at this point. The school district has looked into consolidation in the past and I am sure it will be looked at again. My goal is to get our community involved in all discussions and share ideas. Then the school board needs to look into those ideas that are feasible. We need to do our homework on these types of issues and then report back to the community what we discovered.

Considering that the governor's proposed budget would include unavoidable cuts in school revenues, can the district cut expenditures without cutting programs? (Answers unedited.)

Jim Pfeil (I)

In the great unknown of the new legislation, at first glance the savings in benefit costs are basically washed out by the lowering of the revenue cap. Because of the new laws, there will be added flexibility to the School Board's ability to control costs. The key will be to lower our costs so our current dollars go farther. We are working through that right now. Yes, with fewer teachers, some classes will be lost. Once again, we need to identify our core competencies and devote the proper resources to them.

Richard Chroust

As I have stated in my response to Question #1, let's first find out what "cuts" may be coming to ours school district. But assuming, as your question does, that some cuts are unavoidable, the district's budget and actual expenditures need to be analyzed to see what cuts can be made without impacting programs.

The current school board has already targeted savings in the school lunch program, shifting the cost of some field trips, increasing fees and other area of savings, I am certain that our zero-based budget process will identify additional areas of savings going forward, and, as I state earlier, provide us with much firmer ground on which to project future expenditures.

Finally, we cannot continue to pay our teachers and other school district employees almost $10,000 a year NOT to take the health insurance offered by our district. The cost of this Cash Option alone in the current school year (2009-2010) exceeds $200,000.

Bill Myers

I'm open to discussing and considering everything. However, at least on the surface, I would not want to see Williams Bay consolidated into a larger district. One of our strengths is the access and relationships that our parents are able to have with the faculty and staff. Those relationships have a very positive effect on our children's education, and that may be lost through consolidation. Other important factors like autonomy in staff and faculty selection may also be lost. All of that said, and to reiterate the answer to the first question, every option needs to be assessed and evaluated in order to move the Williams Bay School district forward in a strong and sustainable position.

Lynne Landgraf

The school board is currently looking into and pursuing cuts within our district. They include cuts in programs, teachers, and staff. There may be more on the horizon. The bottom line is we are facing a deficit going into 2011-2012 school year and beyond. At some point we will be cutting so deep that the academics will ultimately be affected. The school board has to reach out to the community and demonstrate that they are being creative and resourceful in all they do. The parents and community also have to be engaged in the discussions for us to reach our goals for the future.

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