Written by Bill Schanen IV
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 21:58
Preliminary PW-S budget calls for 1% decrease one year after referendum-driven hike
Port Washington-Saukville School District property taxes are expected to stabilize after spiking last year as the district adjusts to life with $49.4 million in referendum debt to repay.
The School Board on Monday approved a preliminary 2016-17 budget that calls for a 1% decrease in the tax rate, expected to save the average taxpayer $9.
That’s coming off a year in which the tax rate shot up 13.9%, costing the average taxpayer about $240, due to the first referendum debt payment and a $1 million cut in state aid, part of which was because of referendum borrowing.
Shortly after voters approved the April 2015 referendum, which authorized funding for a $45.6 million Port Washington High School renovation and $3.8 million elementary school addition and parking lot project, the district sold municipal bonds to finance $33 million of the work.
Even though work on the schools would not begin for about another year, officials wanted to take advantage of low interest rates, unaware of the impact borrowing would have on the more than $13 million in equalized state aid the district receives annually.
Municipal bonds sold to finance two-thirds of the projects were purchased by investors at a premium rate, in other words for more than their face value, which is not uncommon when interest rates are extremely low.
The difference between the par value and the premium resulted in about $2 million in proceeds for the district, and without an offsetting cost in that school year, that made the district wealthier under the complex state aid formula and cost it $440,000 in aid. The district then refinanced $440,000 of referendum debt to lessen the impact on taxpayers.
State aid is expected to rebound by $872,367 in the next school year, which starts July 1.
Also working in the district’s favor, its health insurance premium will decrease by 1.8%, saving roughly $50,000, and benefits for several retirees are expiring.
But challenges persist. According to early predictions, the district will have 31 fewer students, which affects the state aid it receives, its property and casualty insurance premiums are increasing and it has no room to increase spending under the state levy limit.
“There are not too many changes from the previous year,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming said. “Some people would say that’s a good thing, but it’s not a great thing. The district won’t have much more money to spend in this budget.”
He said the decline in enrollment is expected to be a temporary trend caused by the graduation of several larger high school classes. Enrollment in the elementary school is strong, Froemming noted.
The district will make a $1.6 million referendum debt payment in the 2016-17 school year. That amount will increase annually, hitting $2.6 million in the 2021-22 school year before tapering off slightly. It is expected to take 25 years to repay the debt.
The district will also make payments of $236,954 for its Wisconsin Retirement System debt and $191,880 for its energy efficiency project debt, which according to the district resulted in a $20,000 savings this school year.
The budget calls for a tax levy of $15.9 million, an increase of $74,307, or 0.47%. But because equalized property values in the district are expected to increase by at least 1.5%, the tax rate is expected to decrease slightly.
The budget, which is approved in June to allow the district to begin spending from it in July, is preliminary. The final budget and tax levy will be approved in October after equalized property values are set by the state.
Written by Bill Schanen IV
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 20:45
Rural Port neighbors settle suit filed years ago by family of man targeted because of his crimes
A protracted legal dispute between neighbors sparked by a 2009 campaign targeting a Town of Port Washington sex offender has been settled, an Ozaukee County Circuit Court judge was told Monday — the day the case was finally set to go to trial.
Lawyers for Wanda Keller and her family and Barbara Patterson told Judge Joseph Voiland they had agreed upon a confidential settlement, bringing seven years of litigation that included a Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision to an end.
“I really can’t say much, but I’m certainly glad this is all over at last,” said Keller, who along with her husband Allan and son Greggory Lentz filed a civil lawsuit against Patterson, the Kellers’ neighbor, in December 2009.
Patterson was among a handful of area residents who in April of that year distributed material in the Port Washington and Saukville areas informing people that Mrs. Keller’s other son, Michael Lentz, was a sex offender living with his mother and stepfather at their Town of Port Washington home.
The materials included Wanda and Allen Keller’s names, their address and phone number and information from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections sex offender registry about Michael Lentz. It also included information about a meeting for “concerned citizens” at the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington, which was cancelled at the urging of authorities for fear that violence would erupt.
Michael Lentz, who has lived with his parents much of his life, was required to register as a sex offender in 2003 after pleading no contest in Washington County Circuit Court to two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of child enticement for having sex with two 15-year-old girls in a West Bend park in 2002. Lentz, who was 27 at the time of his crimes, was sentenced to one year in the Washington County jail as a condition of probation.
Patterson could not be reached for comment this week, but in 2009 she told Ozaukee Press, “Our goal was to put his picture everywhere there might be young children.
“This is just not the community for him. He should move on, for his own good and our good.”
The revelation Monday that a case that has dragged on for years was settled at the 11th hour appeared to irritate Voiland, who noted that just three days earlier lawyers for both sides said they were prepared for the four-day trial and that jurors had taken off of work.
“This case has been pending for seven years and the day of the trial we suddenly have a settlement,” he said, adding that he will consider assessing jury fees to the plaintiff and defendant.
James Walrath, Patterson’s attorney, told Voiland that his rulings on two motions during a hearing on Friday prompted discussions between the parties and a settlement was reached over the weekend.
Although relieved this week to have the case settled, Mrs. Keller said in April 2009 that the campaign targeting her son had turned their lives on end.
“We’re getting harassing calls from people who scream horrible things in the phone,” she said seven years ago. “My husband is up half the night looking out the window because he’s afraid they’re going to burn our house down. I’m afraid someone is going to start shooting at us. I won’t let Mike out of the house for fear someone will hurt him.”
The Kellers eventually hired a lawyer, who in August 2009 sent a letter to Patterson informing her the Kellers intended to sue her for invasion of privacy but Patterson could contact the Kellers’ attorney if she wanted to avoid litigation.
Instead, on Aug. 27, 2009, Patterson petitioned the court for temporary restraining orders against Mrs. Keller and Greggory Lentz and filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. and Mrs. Keller and Greggory and Michael Lentz alleging “harassment, slander, extortion and threat to life.”
The petitions and civil complaint alleged that Greggory and Mrs. Keller had guns they intended to use against Patterson, that Greggory had “documented violent behavior” and the Kellers had been spreading lies about her, much of which an appeals court later concluded was false.
According to Patterson’s subsequent testimony during depositions, the allegations against Greggory stemmed in part from a police report involving an incident in Port Washington’s Upper Lake Park.
In April 2009, Greggory Lentz confronted a woman whom he mistakenly thought was posting flyers about his brother. A confrontation between Lentz and another man ensued.
Lentz, who was cited for disorderly conduct, told police he was being threatened by a mob in the park and said that if he attended the meeting of “concerned citizens” at the Niederkorn Library, “he believed an officer should be there or asked if he should bring a gun,” according to the police report.
Temporary restraining orders against Mrs. Keller and Greggory Lentz were granted, but before they could be served, Patterson withdrew the petitions and her lawsuit.
Months later, the Kellers and Greggory Lentz sued Patterson for invasion of privacy, defamation and abuse of the legal process. They alleged Patterson’s actions were intended to harass them and, because Patterson’s allegations in her restraining order petitions became public records easily accessible on the state’s online court record known as CCAP, Mrs. Keller’s lost work as an in-home nurse.
Patterson subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, and then-Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Tom Wolfgram dismissed the lawsuit.
The Kellers appealed the case, and while the court of appeals agreed with Wolfgram that they did not have grounds to sue for invasion of privacy or defamation, it ruled the family had a case for abuse of process.
“When Patterson went to the courthouse on Aug. 27, 2009, she filed a complaint with allegations that were somewhere between grossly exaggerated and patently false, as evidence by her own testimony,” the court wrote in its 2012 decision.
“Because of the timing of the petitions so close to the Keller’s attorney’s letter regarding a possible lawsuit, one reasonable inference is that Patterson allegedly filed the false petitions in an attempt to gain leverage in potential upcoming proceedings and/or an attempt to intimidate the Kellers from taking any action against her.
“The undisputed facts in the record could lead a reasonable fact-finder to conclude that Patterson abused the legal process when she made false allegations against the Kellers and Greggory.”
Patterson petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review the case, but her request was denied.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 01 June 2016 18:59
Season debut of Port’s Main Street attraction June 4 will help usher in another year of area outdoor sales
The Port Washington farmers market — likely the longest running in Ozaukee County — will open for the season on Saturday, June 4.
About 30 vendors, many of them returning from previous seasons, are expected to set up shop on Main Street between Wisconsin and Franklin streets from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
They will offer everything from eggs to honey, produce to breads, soaps to flowers and much more, said Ross Leinweber, who is managing the market for Port Main Street Inc.
The Port Soccer Club will again offer brats and burgers, he said, with meat from Bernie’s Fine Meats.
During its 21-week run — it is open every Saturday through the end of October except for July 16, Fish Day — the market will offer something for everyone.
For 13 weeks, beginning July 2, there will be music to entertain the crowds that gather on the street to shop and socialize.
That week, the market will also begin circulating cards that will promote healthy eating by providing information and recipes about some of the foods available at the market, Leinweber said. The cards are part of the county’s INVEST Obesity Action Team’s program to educate children about healthy eating.
The market has come a long way in its three-decades-long run.
Scott Schweizer of Anchor Men’s Wear said he suggested a market for Port after seeing the success of the West Bend farmers market.
That first year — he’s not sure exactly when it was — there were only a few vendors on Main Street, but it proved successful by bringing people to downtown for food and shopping, Schweizer said.
“It really creates a lot of traffic,” he said. “And as long as people are downtown, they shop at the downtown stores.”
Organizers slowly added amenities to the market, such as music and prepared food.
“It’s really worked out nice,” Schweizer said. “It’s really perfect. We’ve got a little of everything and not too much of anything.
“That was really the idea, to keep it small and intimate.”
That’s not to say the market’s appeal is limited to Port residents. Schweizer said people staying at the Holiday Inn Harborview also enjoy the market
“They think it’s really unique,” he said. “It’s small town at its best.”
As the market has grown, it has tapped into several food trends that have virtually ensured its success.
Today, people want to know where their food comes from, and the market is ideal for that, Leinweber said. There is an emphasis on fresh foods, not processed ones, and a shop local movement.
“The trends in society are making healthy eating, organic eating, very popular,” he said.
It’s not just Port Washington that has tapped into these movements. Today, shoppers can get fresh produce six days a week:
In Thiensville, there’s a market at Village Park from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays beginning June 14.
Fredonia will hold a farmers market from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays beginning June 15 in the parking lot at the Fredonia Government Center.
In Grafton, a market will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays beginning July 7 in the Grafton High School parking lot.
In Cedarburg, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays beginning June 3 in the Cedarburg Cultural Center parking lot.
Saukville’s market is held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays at Veterans Park beginning June 19.
But as delicious and tempting as the food items offered at the markets may be, there’s yet one more reason the farmers markets flourish.
“It’s a little like a community get-together,” Leinweber said. “It draws people. It’s a place where you can meet up with other people. And Port has such an inviting setting.”
Leinweber said he’s implementing several behind-the-scenes initiatives to help determine how things can be done better and what offerings might be needed in the future.
“The whole idea is to raise the bar a little bit,” he said. “We’ve definitely broadened the categories of products we have, and we continue to try and grow the market.”
Someday soon, he added, they hope to expand the market across Wisconsin Street.
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 25 May 2016 18:52
Students moved to nearby churches after TJ receives same call that cleared schools around the country Monday
Thomas Jefferson Middle School students and most staff members were evacuated Monday after the Port Washington school received a bomb threat — the same computer-generated hoax that forced school evacuations around the country and in Great Britain, authorities said.
A school secretary answered a call at 11:40 a.m. and reported that a computer-generated voice indicated there was a bomb in the school and children would be hurt, according to the Port Washington Police Department.
“There was an indication that students were targeted, so that certainly added to the seriousness of the threat,” Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said.
Five officers responded to the school and searched outside areas.
“We didn’t want kids walking into an ambush,” Principal Arlan Galarowicz said. “We had to make sure there weren’t people hiding in the trees and bushes waiting to hurt our students as they came out.”
Once officers determined the school grounds were safe, the school initiated an evacuation procedure it practiced in fall. Fifth and sixth-graders and their teachers walked about a block to St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, while seventh and eighth-graders and their teachers walked about three blocks to Christ the King Lutheran Church.
It was the first time the school, which has an enrollment of 775 students, was forced to evacuate because of a threat of violence, Galarowicz said.
“We practiced this in fall hoping we’d never have to use it,” he said. “You wish you wouldn’t have to worry about this sort of thing happening, but in this day and age, you have to be prepared. We were very prepared, and I’m extremely proud of our students and staff.”
Officers and custodians then conducted a room-to-room search of the school.
“Staff members accompany officers because they know the school and can recognize if something is out of place,” Hingiss said.
Students returned to the building at 1:15 p.m.
“This is the first time in my 42-year career that I had to do this,” Galarowicz said.
The school notified parents of the evacuation via email at about 2:10 p.m. Galarowicz said he received one complaint because parents weren’t notified as soon as the threat was received.
“When we first got the call, we really didn’t know what we were dealing with, and we didn’t want to panic kids or parents,” he said. “The last thing we needed was to have hundreds of parents trying get to school at the same time police were searching the building. We can handle making sure all our kids are safe, but I don’t think we could have handled that. It would have been a disaster.
“We sent out an email to parents as fast as we could put one together as soon as the kids were back in the building.”
Authorities reported that on Monday similar calls were made to schools elsewhere in Wisconsin and in Iowa, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, as well as in Great Britain.
Experts call these hoaxes “swatting,” and say they are often sophisticated schemes that target schools and police departments and are difficult to track down.
“The really sad thing is that because this was an automated call, we could receive another one tomorrow and would have to do the same thing,” Galarowicz said. “It is kind of a sad comment on our society.”