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Lafayette supervisors argue over water study
Project not included in 2019 budget draft, outside groups have offered funding
Water Faucet

DARLINGTON — Members of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors have left the future of a tri-county water study uncertain after arguing over whether it should be included in the proposed 2019 budget.

During its monthly meeting Oct. 16, the board talked about the study while deliberating how to cut costs in the budget despite the study, which would cost the county just over $15,000 annually for the next two years, not being a part of the budget draft. 

Finance Director Lindsey Van Matre presented the budget draft. The 2019 proposed budget has a levy of more than $8.15 million and a tax rate of $7.14 per $1,000 of equalized home value. A county resident who owns a $100,000 house would pay $714 as their county portion of taxes. The rate is higher than in the 2018 budget, when it was $7.018, or $701.80 for a $100,000 home. It was also an increase from the 2017 rate.

The conservation committee had recommended the study to the finance committee for consideration in its meeting Aug. 7.

According to minutes from the county Land Conservation Committee on Oct. 2, Terry Loeffelholz, manager of the Land Conservation, Planning and Zoning Department, informed committee members the money allocated for the Groundwater Protection Study had been cut from the proposed budget. He said he notified officials from Iowa and Grant County, which are meant to share in the $170,000 study, that Lafayette County may not be a part of it any longer due to the funding shift. 

During the meeting in October, Van Matre questioned why the topic was being discussed such a short time before the board intended to approve the draft for a public hearing in November. She said it would have been easier for the department to allocate funding months earlier rather than so close to the end of the year. Supervisor Larry Ludlum agreed.

“There is a time and a place for everything and the time and place to add to the budget,” Ludlum said. “It never ceases to amaze me how people can have no input on anything and then all of a sudden tell us at the finance committee everything we have done wrong.”

Board Chairman Jack Sauer was the person to initiate discussion of the water study during talks of cuts from other departments which had proposed budgeting for additional staffing needs. He did not favor funding a water study which he noted would disproportionately favor residents outside of the city.

“I think more people should take more responsibility for themselves,” Sauer said. “If you want to live in the country, you should have your well tested every year. People in municipalities are already paying to have theirs done when they pay their water bill.”

He added that he had concerns over the methods of the study. Sauer said asking homeowners to take initial samples themselves could easily contaminate test materials and that taking samples during a time of a large amount of rain could skew results.

But funding could come from an outside source, at least in the first year of the study. Supervisor Leon Wolfe said there was research being done to identify grants to supplement funds. Wolfe added that the Lafayette Ag Stewardship Alliance would be able to donate $7,500, which LASA President Jim Winn confirmed during the meeting.

Sauer said the advocacy for such a study seems to be concentrated from the eastern side of the county.

Supervisor Kriss Marion, who represents the Blanchardville and Argyle township area, noted this and added that she has a reputation for advocating for water quality. 

The county has an opportunity for a “prosperous future” with agriculture and tourism industry if it can have a better understanding of water quality, Marion said Wednesday. She also said that while groups have offered to fund the study for the county, no one within the government has created a method to accept those funds. 

The former conservation committee chair David Hammer died recently, but Marion said he knew funding would be required for the project and was part of the decision to recommend the study to the finance committee, which was ultimately removed from the budget.

“To basically ignore the recommendation of a committee entirely … is not respectful of a committee’s work,” Marion said, adding that she understands the budget has little room for additional costs.

Other board members expressed concern during the meeting over putting off a study which may be needed to identify water problems before the issue can no longer be addressed with prevention.

Supervisor Robert Laeser said the county has the potential to have the worst water in Wisconsin, a claim which could either be confirmed or countered with the water study results.

“Do we just kick the can down the road and fund it later when we have to do it, when there is a problem, or do we take advantage of what we have right now?” Laeser asked fellow board members. “This is a chance to be a part of something that isn’t going to cost us a lot of money.”

No decision was made regarding the water study or the budget. A public hearing for the proposed draft will be during the county board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13.

— Kayla Barnes contributed reporting for this story.