Rep. Joel Kitchens met with the Door County Legislative Committee and several county department heads on Dec. 20 to discuss issues that might or should be brought up in the next legislative session.
Kitchens began by explaining that because of his 15 years on the Sturgeon Bay School Board and his vice chair of the Assembly Education Committee, he was tasked with leading a workgroup on the future of education.
He explained that a pilot program had been proposed in the last session to provide better counseling to high school students on the career possibilities of vocational school, but the Senate adjourned without looking at the proposal.
Kitchens said too many young people are going to four-year colleges and coming out at the end with high debt and no jobs, which he said makes no sense when there are so many technical jobs that need to be filled in the state.
“We will bring that up again,” he said.
He added that he is also in charge of a group that is rewriting the whole school funding formula. “That’ll be coming out next month,” Kitchens said.
Committee Chair Susan Kohout pointed out that Kitchens will also chair the Assembly’s Children and Families Committee, which led to the first subject brought up by a couple in the audience, Tom and Karen Leist. Tom serves on the county’s Human Services Board and both are deeply involved in issues with the long-term care program called Family Care, which was instituted in Door County about 18 months ago.
The Leists told Kitchens and the committee that the long-term care providers in the program are grossly underpaid, which makes it hard to find qualified people. In addition to poor pay – $9 to $10 an hour – it is straight pay, no matter if they work days, nights, weekends or holidays, and there are no benefits, which, Karen Lesit said, results in some “dillies” being hired. She added that qualified people would rather work for a nursing home where they earn a paycheck and benefits.
“It’s the most vulnerable population,” she said. “It’s not just the disabled. It’s the elderly, too.”
“We have a very aging population. It ain’t going to go down,” said Tom Leist. “It’s hard to get providers because we’re so aged.”
Kitchens admitted that it’s a huge societal problem, not just a Door County problem. He said cuts across the state are driven by the skyrocketing costs of elder care.
Joe Krebsbach, who heads the county’s Human Services Department, said the problem with finding care providers is way worse in northern Door than in the city, and it’s only going to get worse in the next 15 years.
Kitchens acknowledged that there is a dearth of health care professionals, but added that Wisconsin has a major worker shortage that is only going to get worse as the Baby Boomers continue to retire.
“The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in a generation,” Kitchens said. “There are so many jobs out there were need to fill.” He also suggested the federal government is going to have “to get realistic on immigration policy.”
Krebsbach pointed out that in September the county passed a resolution to seek additional funding for child welfare, and that is also a priority with the Wisconsin Counties Association and the Wisconsin County Human Service Association.
Krebsbach said the escalating costs of alternative care for children in the system is having a significant local impact, saying that cost has risen by $200,000 in the last five years, from $234,035 to cover the seven workers and 277 child welfare cases, to $404,047 in 2016 (through November), still with seven workers but now with 428 individuals.
“We’re struggling to keep workers because we’re burning them out,” Krebsbach said, adding that his counterparts throughout the state are also struggling to deal with the demands of the increasing number of child welfare referrals.
Kitchens said he certainly saw the escalating degree of serious issues with kids in the system during his time on the Sturgeon Bay School Board.
“The reality is, expenses have gone up and taken away from services elsewhere,” Krebsbach said.
Kitchens also heard from Mariah Goode, head of the county Planning Department. She asked Kitchens to help give a voice to planning departments across the state who had to perform major zoning revisions when Republican legislators inserted shoreland zoning changes into the budget without proper vetting by the people who have to enforce the rules. She mentioned a homeowners bill of rights that is being pushed by Rep. Adam Jarchow and Sen. Tom Tiffany.
“It would be nice for those of us who have to enforce the rules to have a voice in this,” Goode said.
Kitchens said he hoped Jarchow learned something from all the problems he created by inserting the shoreland zoning changes in the budget without proper vetting, and Kitchens said he would push for the homeowners rights legislation to be a standalone bill – with public hearings – rather than being added to the budget.
Greg Coulthurst of the county Soil and Water Conservation Department spoke up for retaining the two Department of Natural Resources foresters who serve Door and Kewaunee counties. A recent DNR reorganization plan has Coulthurst worried that the counties may lose some important services the two foresters provide.
Kitchens said he has heard that the foresters will have to cover larger areas than they do now, which should be made up for by removing a few of their duties.
Coulthurst reiterated that the DNR has been very hazy about the future of the forester program. “They’ve been doing a lot of work for the county and I don’t want to lose that,” he said.
Kitchens promised to make a call and learn more.
He also heard from Door County Sanitarian John Teitchler, who spoke up for the Wisconsin Fund, a program that provides grants for homeowners and small businesses to help offset the costs of repair or replacement of failing septic systems, which has been drastically reduced amidst rumors that it will not be funded in the next budget; Register of Deeds Carey Petersilka made a case for a more efficient system for recording sheriff’s deed properties; Rhonda Kolberg, head of the Public Health Department, advocated for funding for communicable disease prevention programs; and Legislative Committee member Roy Englebert, a county supervisor and chair of the Forestville Town Board, asked for something to be done about overweight manure haulers making multiple runs on town roads and ultimately destroying them in short order with no repercussions.
Kitchens said he is aware of the problem and will look into it.