Officials discuss joint projects - Part 2

Officials discuss joint projects - Part 2

By Steve Sharp -

JEFFERSON — In the first of this four-part series, the Daily Times discussed one of the major projects accomplished in Jefferson County through intergovernmental cooperation, that being the Glacial Heritage Area.

Jefferson County Parks Director Joe Nehmer said he has always been a believer in governmental and other partnerships, but noted he preferred to let Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier, whom he called a “game changer” in fostering intergovernmental cooperation, be the spokesman for the administrative element of Jefferson County government in these conversations.

Wehmeier said he was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the concept of intergovernmental cooperation and went on to address some of the ways it has been applied in recent years. He led off by discussing current examples of these types of governmental interplay.

“The county is part of the Southern Consortium, which consists of seven counties that share a call center that provides enrollment and case management services for Foodshare, Medicaid, BadgerCare Plus and other services,” he said. “Another example is the Marsh Country Health Alliance. Dodge County operates the facilities for nursing home placement on behalf of several counties through an intergovernmental agreement. There is a commission in place as oversight, to which we have one appointment.”

Wehmeier also cited the development of the Bridges Library System.

“Working through concerns of the local Jefferson Library Board, a collective group began to analyze the best federated system for Jefferson County,” Wehmeier said. “Conversations subsequently occurred with Waukesha County about merging our libraries to develop a new federated system that we know today as the Bridges Federated Library System. This would not have happened without all the municipalities engaging and being part of the change. For this to occur, all the municipalities had to vote on the new system, along with Jefferson and Waukesha counties, where it was unanimously approved by all bodies. This new system was recognized by the Wisconsin Public Policy Forum with its Data-Driven Management/Decision-Making and Intergovernmental Cooperation 2016 Salute to Local Government Award.”

Wehmeier went on to say a shared safety position has been created and this person works in both Walworth and Jefferson counties.

“Within the last few years, Jefferson County identified the need we had to hire a safety coordinator to work on risk mitigation,” Wehmeier said. “This was a shared need of Walworth County. The counties entered into an intergovernmental agreement in which we share this position to meet the needs of both counties.”

In the area of economic development, one of the most recent collaborative efforts came with Jefferson County working with Dodge County to provide economic development services. An intergovernmental agreement was entered into in 2017 and both counties have been pleased with results.

“The idea of the Jefferson County Economic Development Consortium was based on an intergovernmental agreement that made it happen,” Wehmeier said.

The concept of collaboration among area governments came up when Wehmeier was asked to address the county medical examiner’s office.

“Jefferson County has been working with Milwaukee County for years to be the primary provider of autopsies when needed,” he said. “This continues to be the most cost-effective approach to provide this crucial service.”

Discussing cooperation among governments within the county, known as “intra-county partnering,” Wehmeier was able to list numerous examples. Among these were:

-- The Clean Sweep Program. With a memorandum of understanding, the county administers the Clean Sweep Program which is countywide and includes prescription drug drop-boxes at different city police stations.

-- Children’s mental health programs. Human Services has been working with schools to maintain and enhance programs for mental health. This includes things such as mental health first aid and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

-- Drug task force. This force is overseen by the county sheriff’s department. Partnering law enforcement agencies work collectively to combat issues related to drugs in the county.

-- The county planning process. In the last few years a task force on operations and organizations was created and an updating of the strategic plan took place. Both processes involved input from local government partners.

-- Opioid treatment and diversion program. Jefferson County Human Services, the county district attorney’s office and law enforcement agencies signed a memorandum of understanding to help divert individuals to treatment programs.

-- Jefferson County Health Department. Through an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Watertown, the city provides inspectors who work on behalf of the county to do all required inspections without the county duplicating services by hiring internal staff.

-- Elections. Through the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office, the county has centralized the purchase of equipment, supplies and run programming for election equipment. Costs are then allocated to townships and municipalities. Wehmeier said this process creates an economy of scale for purchasing and efficiency by having one standard set of equipment.

-- Criminal Justice Collaborating Counsel. Although this group is primarily comprised of county officials, it includes a municipal representative and a municipal law enforcement member in addition to public members who look at policy issues.

-- Highway department brine facility. As part of the construction of the new highway department facility on Jefferson’s southwest side, Wehmeier said, the county worked with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on cost-sharing the purchase of the brine producing facility. “We now have municipalities utilizing the system, as well as Rock County,” he said.

Wehmeier listed other partnerships, as well:

-- Working with Opportunities Inc. on transition housing programs.

-- Every Child Thrives, a partnership among numerous collaborations of government, nonprofits and business centered out of Watertown, with support from the hospital.

-- Interurban line. The first phase has been a joint project with the city of Watertown and numerous organizations. “We are preparing to seek bids for the first bridge and no tax levy is going into it. All funds were raised through grants and generous donations,” Wehmeier said.

-- Thrive is the new 501(c)(3) and Wehmeier said, “It’s all about partnership and collaboration for economic development.”

-- Glacial Heritage Area. This concept encompasses the Jefferson County parks and was built on partnerships. The GHA was developed with the assistance of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

A Human Services department comprehensive community services region group works with both Rock and Walworth counties to share resources in carrying out the goals of Human Services. This includes things such as shared training.

Another item highlighted by the county administrator was how the county takes care of emergency detentions in law. This was also a major concept at a recent roundtable discussion with law enforcement in Jefferson with Attorney General Brad Schimmel and representatives of almost every law enforcement agency in the county.

“I think if you talk with law enforcement, especially those who have worked in other counties, they will say we have a great team approach when it comes to this,” Wehmeier said. “This also builds on the crisis intervention training with law enforcement and the Human Services sponsoring an officer of the year as part of the annual law enforcement award program.

And intergovernmental cooperation just continues to grow, Wehmeier said.

“Two key ones right now,” he said, “include working with Lake Mills township on the reconstruction of Korth Lane and the city of Jefferson as we jointly develop a park on a flood plain at the old highway shop and look to redevelop the remaining property.”

Wehmeier said, as time progresses, he sees more opportunities for governments to work together in Jefferson County and surrounding areas.

“We have a great group of local officials, looking at the best ways to provide services in the most prudent and efficient manner possible,” he said. “This will mean greater conversations on numerous services that can limit duplication and new ways of government operating together. One item we wish to do better at is hosting a council of government. We did one and received positive feedback, and we hope we will have more opportunities to bring all local governments together. We have various staff working with other entities, as we speak, on ways to collaborate.”

Wehmeier called cooperation among governments here an ever-evolving process.

“It is a big concept that requires a lot of hard work,” he said, “especially on finding solutions to big policy issues.”