Wisconsin’s Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes was in Siren to get an inside look at the counties Highway department, current infrastructure needs and also met with health and human services staff at the Government Center.
“On the county level we are looking at strengthening the relationship with local governments,” Barnes told the infrastructure committee. “As we all know – all politics is local.”
Barnes talked about the natural beauty of the state is what makes Wisconsin special.
“But people have a poor experience on our roads they’ll remember that and that’s what they’ll tell people,” Barnes stated.
“There’s a lot of disagreement in Madison, I don’t know if you’ve heard,” Barnes explained. “This, in this room, is where the actual work happens.”
Barnes was asked about how roadwork across the state would be funded and specifically about the possibility of added tolls to roads.
“I’ve heard whispers about adding tolls to roads and tolling across the state,” Barnes said. “I am not in favor of that option.”
Highway Commissioner Mike Hoefs explained to Barnes the engineering process and added layers of bureaucracy needed to go through with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) to get projects done.
“A couple of years ago we did a project on County Road H, just four miles of the road,” Hoefs explained. “The bid price was $1.5 million but eventually went up to $2.1 million for the total cost. I believe if it was done with full local control I could’ve done it for around $800,000. It’s just frustrating.”
State Senator Patty Schachtner was also at the highway facility on Wednesday. She spoke about the financial impact on local government stemming from addiction and the governmental resources they use across the entirety of the system.
“We can’t fight addiction if law enforcement is out there dodging potholes,” Schachtner said.
Supervisor Bert Lund asked Schachtner about the potential concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) planned for Trade Lake.
“We have gotten a lot of phone calls about the CAFO and a lot of concerns pertaining to that topic,” Schachtner said. “We understand there is a permitting process and we’re keeping a close eye on it.”
After their visit at the highway facility, Barnes and Schachtner went to the Government Center and met with the Health and Human Services (HHS) staff. Barnes spoke with the Sentinel after their visit with the HHS staff.
“Burnett County is facing similar issues to the rest of the state,” Barnes said. He noted the Burnett County staff pointed out to him child placement costs rose by over 900 percent between 2013 and 2017.
“That is a startling figure,” Barnes stated. “There is one thing that needs to be done and that is to expand Medicaid. That would be a significant first step.”
HHS director Allison Fern said Barnes and Schachtner were actively listening to the struggles they have been going through in the department. She added the staff was asked questions about potential solutions and possible preventative efforts to help with their workload.
“Information was presented on our rising child placements costs, our concerns with current workload, as well as how the meth epidemic is impacting our community,” Fern said.
The visit also included meeting with the Sheriff’s Office, district attorney, county administrator and a few members of the county board.