By Heather Graves
BROWN COUNTY – Brown County Supervisors unanimously approved an amendment to its contract with the City of Green Bay to allow the refinancing of bonds for the KI Convention Center expansion (KI-2) at its Sept. 15 board meeting.
Chad Weininger, director of administration, said the amendment was needed because the current contract did not allow it.
“It was really about correcting an oversight the City of Green Bay didn’t catch during those negotiations, which was to allow them to actually have a chance to refund the KI-2 debt because they are the ones on the hook for it,” Weininger said.
In 2013, seven Brown County municipalities, including Green Bay, entered into an agreement with the county to levy a 10% tax on all hotel room stays through 2029.
Those dollars are put into a fund and are used to pay debt service payments for the Resch Center and the KI Convention Center (KI-1).
KI-2 and other projects are funded through a waterfall process – meaning priority-one debts, including the Resch Center and KI-1, are paid first before the money flows down the waterfall to priority-two debts, including KI-2.
An amendment was added in 2017 to include the Resch Expo project to the mix.
A $500,000 reserve fund was also created in 2017 for Green Bay to use in the event of an economic downturn.
“The county, in our renegotiation of the room tax agreements, basically said, ‘Hey, we are going to take a half a million dollars out of our own general fund, and we are going to give it to you (Green Bay) in that buffer account, so if there is ever a downturn in the economy, you have $500,000 set aside,’” Weininger said.
When the room tax fund took a hit in 2020 because of the pandemic, Green Bay found itself scrambling for nearly $750,000 for its June 2021 biennial debt service payment for KI-2.
“(Green Bay) basically always thought they had rights to those funds, but they never did,” Weininger said. “The excess funds were through the flow of funds, and as a result (Green Bay) was screaming bloody murder because they didn’t understand the contract. Our board was listening to all this stuff the City of Green Bay was saying, and we were saying ‘You guys don’t even know your contract. What are you talking about?’”
Weininger said the county offered Green Bay a loan, but he said the city passed.
“We originally said, ‘You aren’t entitled to these funds, but what we’ll do is we’ll lend you the funds and then you only have to pay us back if there is ever a future shortfall,’ and they didn’t want to do that,” he said. “So we could have sidestepped this whole larger issue.”
Instead, Green Bay chose to use the $500,000 from the reserve account to help with the payment shortfall.
During that time, Green Bay also said it would refinance the KI-2 Bonds in order to use the interest savings to help the city make future payments.
Weininger said the bond refinancing will save Green Bay $300,000 annually.
“So that means that is $300,000 less in room tax that needs to be taken out to pay for the debt,” he said. “So why would you pay more for debt? And then what that does, is it just helps retire the room tax dollars sooner than later and then free it up for all the municipalities that do collect it. So, it is in the best interest of the communities to do it.”
Weininger said the refinancing move doesn’t affect the county, because if the county has shortfalls, it can extend the room tax to cover it.
“So the county is always going to be made whole, but this really helps all the other communities in our area,” he said. “So it made sense for the board to approve it and it was the right thing to do.”
The Green Bay City Council approved the amendment at its meeting Sept. 21.
The vote is also making its way through the remaining six municipalities for approval, which is needed before Green Bay can refinance the KI-2 bonds.
The village boards of Howard and Suamico already approved the amendment earlier this month.
The approved amendment also “strongly encourages” Green Bay to establish and fund a new $500,000 reserve fund to replace the county-funded one, which is now depleted to cover any further room tax revenue shortfall.
“It is not a requirement, but I think it was more or less a ‘Hey, you guys need to do some financial planning here,” Weininger said. “And I think that was the intent by some of the board members who wanted that as part of the resolution.”
Human Services committee appointment
The appointment of former District 21 Supervisor Alex Tran to the Human Services Committee caused some board controversy.
“Those of us who have been on the board for a few years have had Miss Tran on the board with us,” District 12 Supervisor Dave Landwehr said. “I was actually quite disappointed often with her. She would be unprofessional, swearing at other supervisors during discussion… I guess I don’t see her as a good fit for being on a committee where we need committees to work cooperatively and respect each other. So, I would ask for a roll call vote and that we ask the county executive to find a better, more suitable candidate.”
District 23 Supervisor Ray Suennen echoed Landwehr’s concerns.
“My issues with Miss Tran are, I think, that when she has given some lectures at meetings that were totally inappropriate, and she almost did the sympathy act at times,” Suennen said. “I am not going to support this.”
District 6 Supervisor Kathy Lefebvre said she was disappointed with the discussion.
“I know there are personality things going on here and I am really disappointed…” Lefebvre said. “Alex is a very intelligent person. She knows what she’s doing for this Human Service Committee position. She actually does things, she’s not just sitting on a board and talking. She actually goes out and does the actions that need to be done.”
Vice-Chair Tom Sieber supported Tran’s appointment, saying “she’s the right person for the job.”
“You are not going to find many people in this community that care about homeless people, that care more about the vulnerable in this community than Alex Tran,” Sieber said. “She cares about the people… She is the person that we need for this board.”
Tran was approved for the appointment, 21-5, with supervisors Landwehr, Suennen, Norbert Dantinne Jr., Dave Kaster and Ray Schultz opposed.
Brown County Public Health will host two free COVID-19 vaccination clinics next month at the Sophie Beaumont Building, 111 N. Jefferson St.
The clinic will offer two vaccine options – the Johnson & Johnson (one dose) and the Pfizer (two doses).
Clinic dates are 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 1, with a second dose date of Oct. 22; and noon to 3 p.m., Oct. 8, with a second dose date of Oct. 29.
Weininger said the clinics are free and open to anyone, but focus on individuals who work and live in downtown Green Bay.
“A lot of outreach to the local businesses and say ‘Hey, this is free for your employee, give them some time, let them come into the county building, get the shot and go back to work, as opposed to waiting and trying to do it on (a) weekend, which is almost impossible, or at night because we have (responsibilities),” he said. “Hopefully, this will help with that.”