by Emmitt B. Feldner
for The Beacon
SHEBOYGAN – County Administrator Adam Payne looked back – and forward – in his annual State of the County address to the County Board Tuesday Feb. 15.
Payne listed county government’s top ten accomplishments and milestones of 2021 and, not surprisingly, the ongoing response to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic topped the list.
“You can hardly talk about last year without talking about it,” Payne said of coronavirus’ impact on the county and its citizens.
“Sheboygan County continues to work collaboratively with many community partners including hospital presidents, public health professionals, emergency responders, elected officials and community stakeholders to drive a coordinate response to the pandemic,” Payne commented.
“Most people have taken steps to protect themselves, their friends and their families,” he continued, noting that vaccination rates have exceeded 60 percent county wide, including more than 80 percent of those 55 years and older.
One pandemic-related item will be front and center on the board’s agenda in the next few months – determining how to spend $22.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds received from the federal government.
Six different ARPA task forces created last summer, combining private groups and individuals with county representatives, have submitted draft reports to the county administrator.
The areas addressed by the task forces are affordable housing, behavioral health and crisis response, broadband development, childcare, transportation, and workforce development.
By the beginning of March, the chairs of the various task forces will present recommendations to the board’s Executive Committee early next month.
The committee will review and rank those recommendations during March, with review and fiscal consideration by the administrator and county finance director in April.
A resolution designating the ARPA spending is scheduled for introduction to the board at their May 17 meeting, with final consideration expected at the June 21 meeting.
“You will not find another county in the state,” that has utilized the public/private task force model used by Sheboygan County to decide ARPA spending, Payne told the board.
“I’m very, very proud we reached out and sought input,” Payne said.
Also in the county’s future is replacement of the Transportation Department’s 35-year-old asphalt plant.
Utilizing proceeds from the county’s one-half percent sales tax, Payne said the new plant will be, “more efficient, less reliant on virgin materials and allow the county to continue to provide cost-effective road construction and maintenance.”
Payne said the county can look forward to the opening this year of the new Kohler Center for Marsh Education at the Broughton Sheboygan County Marsh Park.
Terming the center, built in collaboration with the Friends of the Sheboygan Marsh, “a showcase of environmental sustainability,” Payne predicted, “YMCA kids and families for generations to come are going to enjoy this facility,”
Payne also listed a number of other enhancements to county facilities.
They included future plans to expand the Alternatives to Incarceration unit, “rather than spending millions on more brick and mortar,” at the Detention Center, Payne said.
Resident room improvements currently being made at Rocky Knoll should help the nursing home maintain its five-star rating, another accomplishment listed by Payne.
“Rocky Knoll is the only nursing home in the county that has maintained a five-star rating for four straight years,” Payne pointed out, “despite the ongoing … pandemic and staff shortages.”
Payne noted two more achievements of 2021 – the successful Ryder Cup golf tournament at Whistling Straits and the completion of four lanes of State 23 west to the Fond du Lac County line.
“We’ve wanted Highway 23 for 30 years,” Payne commented. He emphasized the positive impact it will have on safety and economic development.
The project, to be completed in Fond du Lac County in the coming year, will also see the extension of the Old Plank Road Trail all the way to Fond du Lac.
He praised the collaborative effort between the public and private sectors on the Ryder Cup. The event drew 45,000 visitors a day to the county during its run, with 27 hours of live worldwide broadcast coverage and an estimated $135 million economic impact in the region.
“Even Lake Michigan cooperated. It was calm on the lake almost the entire weekend,” Payne added.
A renewed emphasis on reducing the number of child protection services out-of-home care placements produced a 60 percent increase in such placements, from 367 to 148, in 2021.
“We substantially changed some of the systems and services we had in place,” Payne explained. “We want to continue to do that good work.”
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During its regular session, the board approved the sale of $7.195 million in bonds to finance capital improvement projects.
Under the county’s five-year capital improvement project plan, those include improvements to county buildings, park and recreation projects, the asphalt plant replacement, software upgrades and technology improvements, and other projects and equipment.