By Emmitt B. Feldner
for The Beacon
SHEBOYGAN – The coronavirus emergency saved the county several percentage points on the interest rate for its latest borrowing.
The County Board, meeting Tuesday via teleconference during the state’s shelter-in-place order, approved a $4.75 million bond sale at an interest rate of 1.9 percent to finance items in the county’s five-year capital improvement plan.
The board had been scheduled to act on the borrowing at their March meeting, but postponed that due to uncertainty over the bond market at that time on the recommendation of bond counsel.
“We were told today that was a prudent recommendation,” County Administrator Adam Payne said, speaking from a room in the Administration Building, where the teleconference meeting was being hosted by County Board Chair Thomas Wegner.
“There was tremendous volatility,” in the bond market in March, Payne said. At that time, the bonds would probably have sold at an interest rate of around 3 to 4 percent or more, according to the county’s bond counsel.
The lower interest rate will save the county approximately $225,000 over the 10-year term of the bond, according to Bradley Viegut of Robert W. Baird and Co., the county’s bond counsel.
The borrowing will enable the county to pay for a number of big-ticket projects scheduled over the next five years, Payne noted.
Those include the customs facility and welcome center at the Sheboygan County Memorial Airport, a new bypass/dam reconstruction and new multi-purpose building at the Sheboygan Marsh, a child care facility at Rocky Knoll Health Care Center and more.
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Payne updated the board on the coronavirus situation in the county.
As of the meeting, he told supervisors, the county had 37 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the virus), with 2 deaths, 11 active cases (four of them hospitalized) and 24 people recovered.
He compared that to the date of the March board meeting, when there were four confirmed cases and no deaths in the county. “It’s remarkable how these numbers have grown. We know we have a long road ahead of us.”
He said the supply of protective personal equipment in the county is sufficient at present.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of our team,” Payne said of the response from public and private officials in the county. Wegner echoed the administrator’s praise.
Both of the county deaths from the virus occurred at Sunny Ridge, but Payne said the outbreak there is under control.
“Thankfully, Sunny Ridge is in a very different situation than a week ago. They’re holding their own and people are recovering,” Payne said. He added that staffing is at near-normal levels at the facility and Sunny Ridge continues to provide quality care.
“We have nine nursing homes in Sheboygan County and it could have happened at any one of them. We felt it was inevitable we would get into this,” Payne added.
He noted that the county continues to follow guidelines for safe distancing, with 175 county employees working from home.
Payne cited the board teleconference meeting as another example, which he said was a first.
“Obviously, this is very different for all of us. It may be a little clunky, it may not be what we’re used to, but it’s safer,” Payne commented.
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The meeting was the last for seven of the 25 board members who either gave up their seat or were defeated by challengers in the April general election.
The new board will meet next Tuesday, April 21, in person on the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Sheboygan campus.
Payne said the meeting room would be configured to ensure safe distancing.
At that meeting, new supervisors will be sworn in. A new County Board chair, vice-chair and Executive Committee members will be elected.
Wegner has completed two terms as chair, the limit under County Board rules.
The board will meet again by teleconference Tuesday, April 28, to approve appointments to the board’s standing committees.