County claims $3.6 million in lost revenue for 2020
By Sarah Nigbor
The Pierce County Board had some new faces as it convened Tuesday, April 19 for the annual organizational meeting. New members Melissa Petersen (District 14), Angela Mathison (District 9), Lynn Paatalo (District 4), and Benjamin Plunkett (District 5) were sworn in along with the incumbents by Judge Elizabeth Rohl.
Newly elected District 16 supervisor Sheila Lorentz arrived late to the meeting, missing the ceremony.
The first order of business was to elect a new chair (previous Chair Jeu Holst lost to Lorentz in the April 5 election). Supervisor Jerry Kosin nominated Jon Aubart, who supervisors approved unanimously. No other nominations were given.
Supervisors elected Michael Kahlow as first vice-chair, who won with 12 votes against Mel Pittman (five votes), followed by
See PC BOARD, Page 8
The newly elected members of the Pierce County Board at the April 19 organizational meeting. (Back row, from left): Mel Pittman, Neil Gulbranson, Sheila Lorentz, Dan Puhrmann, Dean Bergseng, Chair Jon Aubart, Kris Sampson, Michael Kahlow, Lynn Paatalo, Scott Bjork, Ben Plunkett; (front, from left) Dale Auckland, Jim Ashbach, Rodney Gilles, Melissa Petersen, Jerry Kosin and Angela Mathison. Photo courtesy of Judge Elizabeth Rohl PC Board
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second vice-chair Jerry Kosin. Petersen had nominated Pittman for the second vice-chair role, but he withdrew his name.
County Board rules
Pittman (District 17) proposed an amendment to the County Board Rules, Chapter 4 of the Pierce County Code, which addresses publishing of minutes on the county website and how the minutes are distributed to board members.
According to Corporate Counsel Bradley Lawrence, the language in the rules concerning minutes was archaic and indicated that draft minutes needed to be mailed to each supervisor. Currently, draft minutes are emailed to supervisors, who then have the opportunity to make objections. Only county board members on a committee can make objections to that committee’s minutes, which are approved at the subsequent committee meeting.
Pittman’s amendment, which the board approved 16-1 (Jim Ashbach dissenting), proposed posting the draft minutes of board and committee meetings to the county website as soon as they are ready. Once approved, the County Clerk’s ovce will replace the draft minutes with the approved minutes. Draft minutes will clearly be marked as such.
“It’s really up to the board members,” Lawrence said. “I’ve been here 19 years and this has been the process for as long as I’ve been here.”
Pittman said he’s heard from many constituents that they would like to see the meeting minutes much sooner than four-to-six weeks after the meeting.
“Granted it’s a draft copy, but at least they can be aware of what’s going on before another committee meeting occurs,” Pittman said.
Petersen then proposed amending the times the annual organization and budget meeting are held to 7 p.m. Those meetings are typically held at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, while all other county board meetings are held at 7 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of the month.
“I’ve had a number of people talk to me that they’re unhappy that they’re unable to make it during the regular business day,” Petersen said.
Neil Gulbranson (District 11) said it’s nice to have those two meetings during the day because all county stau are working and avail able for questions if needed. If the meetings were held at night, county stau would have to be on hand.
Aubart chimed in that those two meetings can last several hours, which is one reason they’re held during the day. Also, holding them at night would exclude second shift workers or dairy farmers. No matter what, someone won’t be able to make it.
“There’s 10 other opportunities for people to attend at night,” Aubart said.
The motion failed 2-15, with Petersen and Lorentz voting in favor. The board then unanimously adopted the county board rules with Pittman’s amendment.
During the review of the orientation manual, Lawrence warned supervisors about open records requests regarding social media posts about county business.
“You might want to be careful about that,” he said. “You’re custodians of your own records and those posts could fall under open records requests. Getting them to ful- fill a request could be div cult.”
When the resolution came up related to retaining ARPA funds to cover Pierce County’s 2020 revenue loss, which totaled $3,623,849, new supervisors erupted with questions.
“What we’re doing is trying to capture the funds we can account for as actual loss,” Aubart said. “In this manner we’re just capturing the 2020 losses. It’s not like it just goes into the General Fund and is spent on just anything. The board has to approve its uses.”
This number is concrete and has been audited, said County Administrator Jason Matthys. The county is still waiting to hear about revenue loss in 2021, which is one reason why the Ad-Hoc Committee didn’t recommend appropriating the entirety of Pierce County’s $8.3 million in ARPA funds toward revenue loss. The Department of the Trea- sury's "final rule" states that municipalities can take up to $10 million in ARPA funds for revenue loss, meaning Pierce County could capture the entire amount.
However, Matthys said, the county is dedicated to receiving project ideas from the community and has a list of projects totaling more than $60 million that have been submitted for consideration.
Capturing the $3.6 million as revenue loss is basically a way for the county to cut through red tape and spend the money as the board chooses with less reporting requirements.
“It opens up the spectrum of government services,” Matthys said. “Basically everything we do is government services.”
Some municipalities have taken whole amount and applied it to their Capital Improvement Plans so that tax levy funds don’t have to go to those projects, Matthys said.
Bergseng questioned whether anything will be appropriated to broadband expansion. Matthys said the Ad-Hoc Committee could be a year away on providing board members with a list of projects to consider, some of which could come from the money captured as revenue loss. Kahlow pointed out that if the money were appropriated directly to a business for broadband expansion, the money has to be spent by 2026 or it goes back to the Treasury. If the county claims it, the amount of paperwork is reduced, the money is safe, and it can still be appropriated to broadband.
“The question is really asking if you’re ok with having less restrictions on this $3.6 million,” Matthys said. “We didn’t bring the whole amount forward because the 2021-22 loss numbers haven’t been audited yet. But we could take up to the whole $10 million.”
The money could be spent on items such as the dredge project, a tornado shelter at the fairgrounds, a full body scanner at the jail, bridges, stavng and recruitment, etc.
“It seems to me that that’s the way to go, if it’s less red tape that way,” Lorentz said.
“What we’re doing today is actually accounting for the 2020 loss,” Aubart said. “As those other numbers are calculated, they will be brought back here. It’s not a made-up number. It's been certified by the accountant.”
Lorentz asked exactly where the county saw revenue loss.
“From a 10,000 foot view, the predominant loss was our reduction in interest,” Matthys said. “We have a number of funds that we had to pull a lot of money back and put in our checking account. When this whole pandemic hit, those interest numbers were way down and we could have suuered more losses. Depart ments bank on making a set amount of money to ouset their levy funds. The government’s Safer at Home order shook all that up. We took in less revenue because there were less people capturing services, but we still had to pay people and didn’t have to lay ou anyone. But, re strictions wouldn’t allow, for example, Human Services to run a face-to-face mental health clinic.”
Scott Bjork pointed out that the fair alone lost $80,000 in revenue due to being cancelled in 2020.
The board unanimously approved the resolution. It also immediately approved a resolution to use ARPA funds for engineering services for the Nugget Lake County Park dredging project.
“The big question in my mind is, do we want Nugget Lake to be a recreational area or just a place to collect sediment?” Pittman asked.
Plunkett said he would like confirmation that the county isn’t going to be spending $1.5 million every 17 years on dredging the lake.
“That’s about $100,000 a year to keep the lake open,” Plunkett said. “What will be necessary for that lake to be functional? If the farmers and soil conditions make it such that the lake is going to be refilling all the time, I'm not sure it’s worth it.”
Bjork, who is on the Parks Committee, said part of the plan is to determine how to keep the sediment from coming into the lake.
The board approved the following resolutions unanimously: • Commendation to former county board supervisors Jeu Holst, Bill E. Schro eder, Paula Lugar, Ruth Wood and Jeu Bjork.
• Amend fees for county medical examiner and deputy medical examiner, as required by state statute annually.
• Hourly fees and mileage reimbursement for condemnation commissioners, will be paid by the county (only for the annual duties and responsibilities required by state law). All other condemnation compensation will be paid for by the party condemning property by order of the circuit court.
• Terminating the state of emergency declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic.