New law enforcement center will be built

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Supervisors bypass referendum

Times Herald Photo by Joan Koehne

Oconto Mayor Victoria Bostedt, left, pleads with the Law Enforcement/Judiciary Committee not to move ahead with a plan to build a law enforcement center adjacent to the courthouse. The plan would require the condemnation of 14 properties and significantly reduce the tax base of the city. Despite her concerns, the County Board on Thursday voted to move ahead with the project at the city site.

Times Herald Photo by Joan Koehne

Rose Stellmacher, forefront, asks a question regarding a proposed law enforcement center for Oconto County at Thursday’s County Board meeting. Stellmacher voted against resolutions seeking support to build and issue bonds for a $25 million law enforcement center.

With a near-unanimous vote, the Oconto County Board decided Thursday to borrow up to $25 million to build a law enforcement center in the heart of Oconto.

The board voted 29-2 in favor of constructing the center on property adjacent to the courthouse, scrapping plans to build in the town of Little River, long considered to be the most desirable site.

With a 28-3 vote, the County Board approved issuing bonds for the project, easily meeting the ¾ approval needed to avoid a voter referendum that many people said would fail.

Rose Stellmacher and Vernon Zoeller cast no votes in response to the first resolution, which sought support for building the center. Terry Brazeau joined them in opposing the resolution for funding.

The last-minute amendment specifying Oconto as the preferred site drew widespread support, despite objections from Oconto Mayor Victoria Bostedt.

“I’m pleading with you. Don’t do this to the city of Oconto,” she said.

Bostedt said the city lost $1 million in tax base due to the U.S. Highway 41 bypass project in 2009 and stands to lose over $1 million in tax base if property north of the courthouse is condemned and used for the center.

“This would set us back considerably. It is really an awful lot to ask of this community,” she said.

County Board Chairman Lee Rymer responded by saying the center would bring jobs and people to the city.

“County Board members have told us it’s the best place to have one,” he added.

“We’ve got to think of the whole county. I know its’s a hardship for Oconto, but we represent all of Oconto County,” Supervisor Buzz Kamke said.

The new center would replace an outdated facility in the courthouse complex that needs major repairs. Capacity is also a issue. The jail cannot accommodate today’s prison population, requiring the county to house inmates in other facilities.

Inmate counts have risen from about 20 in the early 1990s to more than 70 today. One projection sets the population near 100 by 2015.

“I don’t expect that trend to change much. I expect it to increase steadily,” Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann said.

“We’re going to have more and more prisoners to take care of, and our facility can’t hold them all,” Hamann said.

The County Board has evaluated the need for a new law enforcement center for 15 years. A recent survey of property owners adjacent to the courthouse found most were willing to sell their homes to make room for the facility.

According to Hamann, 10 of the 14 property owners surveyed said yes to selling, three others said they were willing to work with the county, and one owner did not respond. Fair market value of the properties is estimated at $1 million.

Hamann said building next to the courthouse will likely result in a lower price tag for the center. The facility could cost less than the $25 million budgeted, saving taxpayers from the full assessment of $25 per year for 20 years on a $100,000 home.

“It’s only common sense if we have the facility next to the building there is going to be a lot less transportation costs,” he said.

He also noted operational efficiencies, because everything would be in the same vicinity.

“I think that will greatly outweigh the cost of buying the property,” he said.

“My hope would be … that we could build a lesser facility, maybe use the 9-1-1 center, keep some of the beds that are here and remodel the offices that are here,” Supervisor Guy Gooding said.

Several more votes are needed before construction begins, possibly in two to three years, and residents are billed on their property taxes.