Update: The Village of Sister Bay committees did not recommend the transfer of utility funds to the Sister Bay Advancement Association.
The lack of communication and intergovernmental cooperation with the Village of Sister Bay was a major topic of discussion at the Sept. 20 Liberty Grove Town Board meeting.
It began with Chair John Lowry relating that at a utility meeting with the village, town Administrator Walter “Bud” Kalms learned that Sister Bay was considering transferring $25,000 from the utility fund to the Sister Bay Advancement Association.
Clerk/Treasurer Janet Johnson then did some investigation, first by talking to Sister Bay Finance Director Tasha Rass. Johnson asked if Liberty Grove’s Utility District #1 pays into the fund the village is talking about and was told that it does. She was also told that transfer of funds has not been approved and has to go through the village Finance Committee and then to the village board.
Johnson then talked to the town’s auditor, Paul Denis at Schenck in Green Bay, who told her from an auditor’s viewpoint, the village’s allocation from the utility seems “very odd.” When she asked if this type of allocation had been done before, he informed her that he is not the auditor for the village, but if he were, he would put something in a “management communication letter” to the effect that this is something you should not do. He said the town would specifically have to ask for management communication letters from the village, but he added they are not considered public record documents.
Lowry said the amount that Liberty Grove’s Utility District 1 provides to the utility fund administered by the village doesn’t amount to that much, but it is the principle of the thing. He said the smart thing to do is let the village know they are aware of the talk of transferring funds and that the town will take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the use of town funds for that purpose.
The board decided to send a letter to the town advising them not to use any money from Utility District #1 should they decide to transfer funds.
“To put it into a bigger context, what we’re facing is intergovernmental cooperation, or lack thereof,” said Supervisor Lou Covotsos, who suggested the letter emphasize doing things in “the spirit of intergovernmental cooperation” because, he said, that is where a lot of the problems lie between the two municipalities.
“Communication and cooperation is the essence of what we’re talking about,” he said.
The motion to send a letter to Sister Bay regarding the segregation of town funds was approved, with all but Supervisor Hugh Mulliken voting in favor. He said the letter should be broader.
The board also discussed having access to better financial records from the Utility Committee. Currently they have nothing for accounting other than a monthly bank statement with check amounts.
“We don’t know what it’s for,” Johnson said.
“It’s our people’s money. Period,” said Supervisor Nancy Goss. “We need accounting.”
The joint town/village Utility Committee has six members – three village trustees, a Liberty Grove town board member (Hugh Mulliken), a resident of the town’s Utility District 1 (Fred Anderson) and one resident of the town (Peter Sauer).
Lowry said in addition to better accounting, the town’s Utility District 1 Committee has been meeting too sporadically.
“Maybe it’s time to reorganize that committee,” he said.
He suggested the board tell them to meet monthly, with the provision, “if you can’t do that, we will find somebody else to take that spot. We don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t think that’s correct.”
Covotsos made a motion to request at least two years of all revenue and expenses from the Utility Committee, which was passed, but Johnson warned that all they would get would be details on Utility District 1 rather than for the entire service area.
“Our members must attend the meeting and ask for a full accounting,” Lowry said.
Kalms said the Utility Committee is simply advisory and that the village board holds all the strings.
“I’m going to be very blunt,” Lowry said. “I would like to get us off the slippery slope of Sister Bay. You can interpret that how you want.”
Covotsos mentioned that accounting for the Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Library and Fire Department is both commendable and excruciating in detail.
“There is no lack of information where our dollars are going and how they spend every penny,” he said.
The board set two budget informational meetings for 1 and 7 pm, Sept. 26, and a budget hearing at 7 pm, Oct. 17. A special town board meeting with Sister Bay-Liberty Grove Fire Chief Chris Hecht has been called for 7 pm on Oct. 4.