Two in race for Farmington Town Board
Two candidates are contesting one seat on the Farmington Town Board.
Former board member Eugene Engebretson is challenging incumbent Joel Bartel in the April 5 spring election.
Chairman Dale Trinrud and Supervisor Caroline Murphy are running unopposed.
First elected in 2009, Bartel said he has kept his initial campaign promise of increasing communications between the town board and Farmington residents.
Bartel pointed to two board initiatives over the past two years – a township website and a newsletter – to keep residents informed about their local government.
Bartel said he also promised in 2009 to control spending.
“Once I was elected, we began taking job proposals for all our road projects,” Bartel said, adding that Farmington saved $60,000 by shifting its snow plowing contract from the county to a private contractor.
Bartel said the town’s expenditures dropped from $1.11 million in 2008 to $910,000 in 2010.
“You can spin the numbers how you want, but it’s hard to argue with the bottom line,” Bartel said.
Bartel also noted that he was the only town board member to vote against a property tax increase for 2011.
“There’s absolutely no reason to raise property taxes,” Bartel said.
After a public hearing in November 2010, the town board voted 2-1 in favor of the budget, which included a 3 percent increase in property taxes and a 1.8 percent increase in total expenditures over 2010.
Bartel said he wants to continue cutting costs in the future by separating Farmington’s clerk-treasurer into two positions.
“Our auditors are telling us for our size of township we should have separate positions for the clerk and treasurer,” Bartel said. “This is nothing against our current clerk-treasurer. Sandy (Grenlie) is doing a fine job. This is structural.”
Bartel said he favors restructuring the position in order to have internal checks and balances. He said the treasurer should be appointed and the clerk elected.
“I think we owe it to the residents to have accountability,” Bartel said.
He believes combining the two positions will also save the town at least $21,500. He said Farmington is currently paying the clerk-treasurer $62,000 in salary and benefits.
“Our office is open only 25 hours per week,” Bartel said.
Citing a Wisconsin Towns Association salary survey from 2004, Bartel compared Farmington’s current costs for the dual position to the average paid by towns with populations between 2,500 and 5,000. He said adjusting for inflation, Farmington could be paying a total of $40,500 for an elected clerk and an appointed treasurer.
Bartel said he will continue to vote against raising taxes in the future.
He noted that the town currently has $400,000 in a rainy day fund and $200,000 in a fund for building a new town hall.
“I will only support a new town hall through an advisory referendum from the citizens of Farmington and if we pay for it in cash,” Bartel said.
First elected to the Farmington Town Board in 1995, Engebretson served 12 years before he lost an election.
In 2008, he was appointed to the board to fill the remainder of Dale Trinrud’s unexpired term as supervisor. Trinrud had been named the town’s new chairman after then-chairman Don Fabricius died.
Engebretson worked 40 years with the Waupaca County Highway Department before retiring. During his last 25 years with the county, Engebretson made road signs.
“I understand the roads, and how to build and maintain them,” Engebretson said, noting that road work constitutes the town’s single-largest budget item. Board members inspect the roads each year to determine which ones will be included among the town’s improvement projects.
“When we were looking at the town roads, I knew when they needed to be resurfaced or seal-coated, when culverts needed to be replaced or repaired,” Engebretson said. “Roads are half the town’s yearly budget. They’re what people see first when they come into our town.”
He noted that all Farmington residents rely on their town roads to get to work, to school and back home safely.
“All I have to offer the town is that I have the knowledge, experience and time to do the things that need to be done,” Engebretson said. “I will drive over the town roads every month to see if there are any problems that need to be corrected.”
Engebretson said serving on the town board is almost like a full-time job. In addition to monthly meetings, there are committee meetings and workshops to attend, as well as time listening to the concerns of constituents.
“A rural town supervisor isn’t like a city council member. It’s a working position, not an executive position,” Engebretson said, adding that he repaired and replaced the town’s road signs when he previously served on the board.
Engebretson said he did not support separating the clerk-treasurer into two positions. He said he did not believe that the clerk-treasurer’s compensation was out of line given the position’s level of responsibility and the fact that Farmington is the largest township in Waupaca County.
“She is handling both the clerk’s and the treasurer’s jobs. She keeps regular office hours in the morning and, a lot of times, she works until 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon. She handles the elections, handles the taxes coming in, takes care of the cemetery lot sales. She attends monthly meetings at night, takes notes at special board meetings and takes classes to keep up to date on the laws,” Engebretson said. “She has a lot of work and she takes care of it very well. She is not being overpaid.”
Engebretson said the town board will have to make difficult decisions as the state continues to cut shared revenues to municipalities.
He also criticized Bartel for voting against Farmington’s 2011 town budget after failing to attend the budget workshop where town officials hammered out the details.
“He spoke against the town budget more as a matter of showmanship than of statesmanship,” Engebretson said.