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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Although it is too early to tell if any legislation beneficial to the county will come of it, the Dunn County Board’s special session with legislators in February is being hailed as a success.
The feedback on the February 25 special meeting of the Dunn County Board from observers and legislators who participated is that the meeting was “unique” and “very effective,” said Paul Miller, county manager, at the Dunn County Board’s March 20 meeting.
The county board met with state Senator Patty Schachtner (Senate District 10), state Senator Jeff Smith (Senate District 31), and state Representative Rob Summerfield (Assembly District 67).
Last fall, managers and supervisors were asked to forward to the county board’s standing committees items they wanted to see legislators address, Miller said.
The Dunn County Board officially approved a legislative agenda in November.
Items on the county’s legislative agenda that the county board discussed with the legislators include the Wisconsin Medicaid reimbursement rate, which is the lowest in the United States and is causing nursing homes to have financial problems; the state-imposed levy limit, which is causing municipalities and school districts to have financial problems; and adding a third judge to Dunn County’s circuit court as well as adding assistant district attorneys to provide more help in handling the court system’s case load.
Also included on the county’s legislative agenda that the county board discussed with legislators is child welfare funding, because the county department of human services has experienced a budget deficit from placing children impacted by their parents’ methamphetamine and opioid addictions; a groundwater program funding request; and rural broadband development and a funding request to help provide fiber optic service to areas of the county with poor Internet access.
The legislators who attended the special session also said Dunn County should talk to other counties about doing something similar because the process was so good, Miller said.
Dave Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, spoke to the St. Croix County Board chair, and the St. Croix County chair contacted Miller to find out more information, Miller said.
Julie Wathke, county clerk, was at a workshop in Madison, and Senator Schachtner made a point of commenting to Wathke about the value of the Dunn County Board’s special session with legislators, he said.
Miller also noted that he and Bartlett had traveled to Washington D.C. for the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) legislative conference.
Bartlett and Miller met with a staff member of Representative Sean Duffy and also met with Senator Tammy Baldwin.
They told Duffy’s staff member and Senator Baldwin about the presentation Mary Solberg, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the Dunn County Health and Human Services Board, had made for the special session with state legislators about placing children impacted by the methamphetamine epidemic.
The staff member and Senator Baldwin were taking notes, Miller said.
These kinds of messages are “invaluable” to communicate to legislators, he said.
Miller said he told Senator Baldwin when federal money is allocated to help areas where there are severe problems with methamphetamine and opioid addictions, the money should bypass the state and be disbursed directly to the counties that are affected, Miller said.
The more counties can do to communicate with state and federal legislators, the better the chance will be that legislation will result, he said.
Legislative outreach is one part of Dunn County’s Directional Plan, Miller pointed out.
The Dunn County Board may want to consider holding a special session with legislators annually, he said.
And if Dunn County Board members have an opportunity to “rub elbows” and talk with legislators, they should tell the legislators again about the needs of Dunn County, Miller said.
“Nothing is trivial … it all matters to what we are doing,” he said.
Later on, during the annual report presented for the circuit court, Katie Schalley, Dunn County clerk of courts, and Judge James Peterson spoke about the importance of adding a third judge to Dunn County’s circuit court system.
When the Dunn County Judicial Center was built 20 years ago, a third courtroom was included in anticipation of adding a third judge at some point in the future.
Additional judge positions are created by the state Legislature.
According to Schalley’s annual report, 13,318 cases were filed in Dunn County in 2018 of which 1,357 were criminal cases, 9,646 were traffic/forfeiture cases and 954 were small claims cases.
Dunn County also held 15 jury trials in 2018.
Three criteria that are considered for adding another judge include the caseload in the county, whether the county has an available courtroom for another judge and local support from the county board in the form of a resolution supporting legislation for additional judges.
Schalley and Judge Peterson were appreciative of the county board’s support for a third judge, and Judge Peterson also noted the county’s need for additional assistant district attorneys.
During her annual report, District Attorney Andrea Nodolf said Dunn County is the first county in the state to have a victim witness waiting room with video conferencing.
The waiting room allows victims and witnesses to see the court proceedings without having to encounter the defendant in court, she said.
The waiting room also allows victims and witnesses to testify without having to be the courtroom where they could be uncomfortable testifying in front of the defendant, Nodolf said.
For children who are testifying, for example, the camera angle can be adjusted so that all they see is the judge, she said.
Dunn County’s video-conferencing technology has been so successful that Nodolf and Victim/Witness Coordinator Barb Lande have been asked by the Department of Justice to speak at a conference.
The Dunn County district attorney’s office received a one-time Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant in the amount of $56,116 for the video-conferencing equipment and the victim/witness conference room.
Nodolf also spoke about what she called a “remarkable” number of homicide cases in 2018. Three of the cases were resolved by guilty pleas or jury trial and two are open cases right now.
In 2018, Serghei Kundilovski pleaded guilty to three counts of homicide by the intoxicated use of a vehicle.
Kundilovski was operating his vehicle on I-94 and was “huffing,” crossed the median and plowed into a vehicle, killing the three occupants. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison.
Cullen Osburn was found guilty by a jury of aggravated battery in the death of a UW-Stout student from Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to eight years in prison with extended supervision.
Todd Dormanen pleaded guilty to homicide by the intoxicated use of a motor vehicle and operating while intoxicated causing injury.
Dormanen was driving drunk on state Highway 79 south of Boyceville, crossed the center line and hit a vehicle head-on driven by Jena Anderson. Jena died in the crash, and her daughter, Kallie, was injured.
The accident was Dormanen’s fourth OWI, and he was sentenced to 32 years in prison with extended supervision.
In 2018, Ezra J. McCandless was charged in the death of Alexander Woodworth in the Town of Spring Brook, and Richard Seehaver was charged in the death of John Likeness in Menomonie.
In other business, the Dunn County Board:
• Approved budget adjustments to the 2019 budget resulting from carry-forwards from the 2018 budget in the total amount of $1,593,754. The carry-forwards tend to be projects started the previous year that were unable to be finished in that year.
• Suspended the rules for a second reading and approved an ordinance amendment stating the chair of the Dunn County Board, as an ex-officio member of all committees, will not be used to determine a quorum of a committee on a regular basis but may be called upon by the committee chair to make a quorum at any committee meeting where necessary. During the various snowstorms in February, some committees ended up without a quorum when committee members experienced difficulty traveling on snowy roads and could not get to the meetings.
• Approved a resolution proclaiming April of 2019 as National County Government Month. The resolution encourages all county officials, employees, schools and residents to recognize the contribution of county government and its employees to our community.
• Approved a resolution amending the employee handbook so that full and part-time certified nursing assistants enrolled in the WisCaregiver Career Program and who successfully complete an approved nurse’s aide training and testing program and work at the Neighbors of Dunn County for a minimum of six months are eligible to receive a $500 WisCaregiver Retention bonus.
• Approved a first reading of an ordinance that consolidates all the amendments to the lodging, recreation and food protection ordinance into one document. The last amendment to the ordinance was in 2004, but to read the entire ordinance, it was necessary to go to three different sections. The ordinance repeals 98-55, 02-72, and 04-55.
• Approved a resolution designating the week of April 8 to 12 as “Work Zone Awareness Week” in Dunn County. In Wisconsin, there have been more than 2,000 work zone crashes in each of the past three years. In 2016, there were 2,811 construction zone crashes, nine construction zone fatalities and 1,112 construction zone injuries. In 2015, three county highway workers were fatally injured in work zones in Wisconsin.