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Highway department looks for county road project funding

Pierce County Highway Commissioner Chad Johnson said the Department of Transportation recently rated down a bridge on County Highway W from 45 tons to 20 tons. Submitted photo

The Pierce County Finance and Personnel Committee met on May 7 to hammer out county employee dental benefits for 2019, highway construction funding, and full-time comprehensive community service employees. The common thread: More money is needed to fund services and projects.

Road project funding

Pierce County Highway Commissioner Chad Johnson said the highway department needs funding for many highway projects throughout the county, which include structure replacement, deck replacement, box culvert installation, mainline guardrail replacement, polymer overlay, mill and overlay.

Johnson said two bridges in Pierce County were just "rated down" by the Department of Transportation, which has an impact for area farmers and businesses and shows part of the need for funding to redo roads.

"The DOT uses inspection records, construction plans and other information to load rate local system bridges," Johnson said. "The bridge on County Highway O just south of Highway 10 was rated down from 40 tons to 30 tons, and the first bridge on County Highway W off of Highway 65 was rated down from 45 tons to 20 tons. Each bridge was rated down for different reasons. A legally loaded quad axle dump truck is 36 tons, so that means neither of these bridges can support that vehicle type with a full load. This is having a negative impact on businesses and farms that use these roads."

Johnson said without some type of additional funding many of the projects needing work will not be done because of lack of funding. He requested the county look into doing a bond as it has previously done to fund projects.

"Full County Board approval is required, so that is the next step," Johnson said. "The Finance and Personnel Committee moved forward an amount of $8 million. The last bond acquired had a 10-year payback, so I am expecting something similar if this is successful. Once the rate is determined, the county can establish what the financial impact is to a resident based on a particular home value."

Deputy registrar position

Carol DeWolf, register in probate and clerk of juvenile court, spoke to the committee about the deputy registrar position being vacant since March 30. The position is currently funded at 1,092 hours per year, which makes it ineligible for state retirement benefits that require a minimum of 1,200 hours per year. She proposed the position add an additional three hours per week. This would make the deputy registrar position 1,248 hours per yearm which would make it eligible for state retirement benefits.

"No savings because the budget is set, but it could allow additional hours for someone this year, but not future," DeWolf said.

Pierce County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy and interim County Administrator Jason Matthys said DeWolf brought this issue to the Law Enforcement Committee, which in turn approved forwarding the request of three additional hours, with one opposed vote, to the F&P Committee for consideration. Matthys said he knew DeWolf wouldn't request the additional three hours for the position if the workload didn't support the hours.

DeWolf said it has been hard to keep someone in the position. She hopes if a person would qualify for state retirement benefits, he or she would stay longer. The committee approved the additional three hours per week for the deputy registrar.

Additional CCS positions requested

Pierce County Human Services Director Ronald Schmidt requested the committee approve and forward to the Pierce County Board of Supervisors two full-time Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) service facilitator positions. Schmidt said these positions would serve people from "cradle to womb." Currently, the department has other position that offers help to people throughout the span of their lives.

CCS is a mental health, alcohol and other drug provider, and these providers will serve all age groups. Schmidt said these positions are reimbursed through Medicaid; state funds and reimbursement covers agency management, support staff and overhead costs. He said this would reduce the levy needed to support these positions.

Pierce County has had these positions in the past, but the request for these positions was denied by the F&P Committee in September 2016 when past reimbursement payments were not received right away. Schmidt said the reimbursement payment is usually received in December of the following year. However, the 2015 and 2016 full reimbursement was not received until December 2017.

If CCS positions are approved Schmidt said this would greatly help with the 42-person waiting of people needing help. Because CCS is funded through medical assistance, no waiting lists are allowed, so Schmidt said he would be looking to add even more staff in the 2019 budget, which would be funded through CCS as well.

Part of the concern is that since payment is not received until the end of the following year, the money has to come from somewhere to initially pay the new employees. He said this could be done through a contingency fund which would then be paid back when the reimbursement comes in.

"I don't see where there would be any harm in starting this process today, said F&P Chair Jeff Holst. "We can pull the rug if we need to later."

However, Holst said hiring these two positions will not help with the methamphetamine problems the county is experiencing. He said meth will continue to be a problem and children will continue to be taken out of homes where parents are using meth; hiring these positions will not stop that from happening.

"Need to convince county meth is a problem," Holst said. "It accounts for a large amount of our crime."

Schmidt agreed the addition of these two positions will not stop new cases of methamphetamine and other drug use problems from happening. However, he said it will give needed support to those being treated for methamphetamine and other mental issues. He said with these two CCS positions they will be able to provide "meaningful treatment."

"We have county residents in need of service and CCS is the program that can help at zero county cost," Schmidt said.

The board approved the two full-time CCS positions be forwarded to the County Board for consideration.

County employee dental benefits

Ramona McCree, from CBIZ Benefits and Insurance, spoke about different options for dental benefits for county employees to be effective Jan. 1, 2019. She presented plans from Anthem, Delta Dental of Wisconsin and Guardian for the committee to review. McCree let the committee know that Shaw Family Dental (in Ellsworth) would not be in network with the Anthem plan.

McCree went through the costs, deductibles, maximum benefits, and options with each plan. She said CBIZ had negotiated with all three companies to remove any waiting periods for services under the plans. However, any employee who chooses the buy-up plan to include coverage for basic services (like simple extractions and fillings); major services (likes crowns, endodontics, and bridges); and orthodontia the employee must sign up to stay on the plan for two years.

The committee voted to go with Delta Dental of Wisconsin and this will be forwarded to the Pierce County Board of Supervisors for final approval of dental carrier selection, approval of the employer contribution to the premium, and approving additional dental insurance coverage available to employees.