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Lafayette finds money for water study, passes budget
Housing authority loan to cover costs
Water Faucet

DARLINGTON — Before a crowd not usually present during a budget hearing Nov. 13, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors passed its budget after initially rejecting it due of a lack of funding that nine supervisors felt was needed for a countywide water study.

The study was initially included in a recommendation for funding by the county Land Conservation Committee Aug. 7, but when it was considered by the Finance Committee, the $15,000 cost was removed from the proposed budget.

During its meeting Oct. 16, the board argued over the funding exclusion. Chairman Jack Sauer questioned why residents could not pay for their own water to be tested. 

The water study proposal would be done in conjunction with Grant and Iowa counties, with all three splitting the costs. Lafayette County would need to fund just over $15,000 annually in the next two years. The total cost for the tri-county Groundwater Protection Study is roughly $170,000. During the October board meeting, Jim Winn, president of the Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance, pledged $7,500 in funds for the study. The remaining amount, just over $8,000, would need to be found elsewhere, the board agreed. 

Finance Committee Chair Gerald Heimann read the resolution to accept the budget as outlined and moved to have it adopted. It failed on a 7-9 vote, with supervisors Robert Laeser, Kriss Marion, Ursula Fecht, Carol Korn, Rita Buchholz, Steve Spensley, Leon Wolfe, Tony Ruesga and Bob Boyle voting against its adoption. 

Finance Director Lindsey Van Matre pointed to the budget, explaining that the county sits at a 100 percent levy and that in order to include more than $8,000 as an expense in the budget, another department would need to cut costs in that amount.  

“I’m not trying to make it more difficult for you but it has to come from somewhere,” Van Matre said to the board.

She added that Lafayette County had already exceeded its 2018 budget as of September, when it was at 104 percent.

Sauer spoke to Laeser directly when he said the funding needed to come from another department or an outside source, as was discussed during the October meeting when LASA pledged funds. He said the “water study is a great idea,” but noted so were two needed jail dispatcher positions and $45,000 requested through the law enforcement budget, neither of which were funded because of budget issues.

Marion, who favors the study, said Friday that despite other board members like Sauer indicating support was only coming from the eastern side of the county, a variety of county residents appeared to advocate for the study during the hearing. Multiple public speakers were from municipalities like Darlington, Hazel Green and Benton, she noted.

“I think there’s widespread support,” Marion said, adding that the county had received offers of donations from the public, but did not have a proper avenue to accept them. 

Now, she said, Van Matre has indicated that a check could simply be written to the county and the funds would be designated toward the proper use.

After lengthy discussion about which department could contribute the funds, Boyle, who serves as chairman of the Housing Authority Committee, suggested the $8,400 be lent to the study funding on a short-term basis. The money could be taken out of the authority’s long term planning fund. The Housing Authority recently sold its South Wayne apartment complex to Ace Concrete for $345,000 and has used some of the money for building updates and maintenance at other locations. The authority currently has $109,000 left in the fund.

Boyle called for a committee to be formed to collect donations. Marion said that group consists of herself, Laeser and Spensley and that they have already started receiving funds. She estimated the funds could be paid back within a year and said there should not be problems paying it back. Funds from the LASA donation helped cover $5,000 in costs associated with sampling that begin on schedule in fall.

Because the housing authority maintains its funding outside of the county operating budget, the borrowing of nearly $8,500 would not affect the proposed document being discussed during the meeting. Supervisors agreed on the arrangement unanimously.

The budget, with the water study included, was then accepted by the board. The total levy is over $8.15 million. With a mill rate of $7.1382 per $1,000 of equalized home value, the owner of a $100,000 house will pay $714 in county taxes. That differs slightly from the 2018 tax rate of $7.018 per $1,000 of value, or $702 for the owner of a $100,000 home. 

— Kayla Barnes contributed reporting.