JEFFERSON — The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors received capital projects bonding news Tuesday that left many slack-jawed with surprise and elation after learning the county will be saving approximately $1 million over an original interest rate projection.
On Jan. 14, the county board adopted a resolution authorizing the sale of general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed $7.6 million to pay for capital projects that include improvements to its communications systems and extensive renovations to county facilities, both downtown and on the Jefferson south campus.
The firm of Ehlers and Associates, which handled bonding negotiations for the county for these projects, informed supervisors and other county leaders Tuesday that, due to worries in the world financial market this week related to the coronavirus, investors have been pulling back as they look for more reliable and conservative investments. Ehlers said the county’s bond rating is extremely high and Jefferson County is currently viewed as a rock-solid investment as a governmental entity. This, they said, is due, in part, to the county’s history of responsible money management, and its location between Madison and Milwaukee on Interstate 94, as well as it’s proximity to the Fox Cities and Janesville/Rockford.
“I have not seen rates this low,” Jefferson County Finance Director Mark DeVries said after the meeting. “We issued bonds in a coronavirus dip in the market and this is all a happy coincidence. The stock market currently has a lot of uncertainty and we have a favorable bond rating. People are seeking stable bonds like ours and that is what drove down the interest rate.”
Compared to the initial interest rate on the bonds, which was 3.1%, the rate locked in by the county is 1.97%, leading to the $1 million savings for Jefferson County.
Also Tuesday evening, the board received annual reports from Lyn Forseth, executive director of the Jefferson County Literacy Council, as well as Chrissy Wen, area director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Jefferson County Extension.
In her report, Forseth said accomplishments for the council in 2019 included having 8,700 in total attendance hours of instruction to 201 learners. A total of 104 people were enrolled in English as a second language and adult basic education. The Jefferson County Jail saw 97 participating in correction education, while 43 learners increased one or more literacy levels. Six people earned high school diplomas and three received U.S. citizenship.
Forseth reported that 2,514 volunteer service hours were provided. She also addressed accomplishments in adult and family literacy, and correctional education at the jail. Areas where goals have been established for 2020 include outreach, more work with incarcerated women, preparation for U.S. citizenship and career path-finding.
Wen said that during 2019, many agriculture training sessions and programs were conducted. Her report also noted that the Master Gardener Program is going well. It is facilitated and managed by the extension’s agriculture educator. There are 31 Master Gardener Volunteers and the program reached an estimated 9,592 individuals with various outreach projects. In 2019, Master Gardener Volunteers reported 4,057 hours of community service with a value of more than $97,376.
Wen said 4-H youth are enrolled in 98 different projects and that 246 volunteers reported giving 12,655 hours to 4-H for a value of more than $303,500. Discussing Natural Resource Education, the report noted the extension coordinated three educational events in Jefferson County to encourage farmers to use conservation practices to build soil health and protect water quality. The combined attendance at these events was more than 140 people.
Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier and Human Resources Director Terri Palm-Kostroski provided updates on the successfully evolving renovations to the county’s personnel ordinances and proposed changes to county board rules. Also discussed was the ongoing update process to the county’s Comprehensive and Farmland Preservation Plan.
As part of proposed changes to county board rules, the finance and Human Resources committees would be combined, as would the land and water conservation and UW-Extension education committees. The life of the broadband working group would also be extended to 2022. Remote attendance would be permitted, in some cases, for committee meetings. However, all supervisors would still be required to have in-person attendance at county board meetings.
The board approved the 2020-2022 collective bargaining agreement with the Jefferson County Law Enforcement Officer’s Association, Local 102. The document contains provisions for wage increases of 2.33% effective Jan. 5, 2.33% effective Jan. 3, 2021 and 2.34% effective Jan. 2, 2022. New hires needing to complete the law enforcement academy will be paid $21 per hour while attending that school. Other aspects of the agreement were also adjusted with board action Tuesday.
Supervisors authorized a Motorized Recreation Grant Application to fund the Jefferson County Snowmobile Trail Aid Program.
The meeting closed with supervisors approving the sale of county-owned property to the City of Fort Atkinson for the purpose of extending Farmco Lane to the Fort Atkinson Wastewater Treatment Facility.