Ballweg visits Waupaca
State senator seeks citizen input
By Angie Landsverk
Child care, budget challenges and mental health needs were among the topics when state Sen. Joan Ballweg visited Waupaca Friday, April 16.
The Republican from Markesan was gathering input from constituents for the state’s biennial budget.
“You invited me, so I’ll let you all talk,” Ballweg said during a visit with city of Waupaca officials that afternoon.
Mayor Brian Smith said they thought it would be a good idea to have the city’s state representatives meet with them.
When City Administrator Aaron Jenson reached out to Ballweg’s office, her staff got back to him almost immediately, Smith said.
“I hope we can continue having these listening sessions in the future, whether in person or virtual,” the mayor said.
Jenson told Ballweg small communities like Waupaca rely on net new construction due to levy limits and “state shared revenues being what they are.”
In the last year, the city has seen an increase in the number of single family homes being built and hopes for commercial growth as well, he said.
However, the city still has budget challenges, Jenson said.
Municipal budget challenges
Some of the city’s net new construction is offset by the loss of big-box stores and how the state assesses manufacturing, he said.
That is why state shared revenue is so important, Jenson told her.
Ald. Scott Purchatzke asked Ballweg if the state Legislature is going to focus on restoring some of the funding municipalities have lost over the past decade.
Ballweg said that in general, the state’s revenue is in good shape.
Sales tax revenue is as good, if not better, with the only reduction being in corporate income taxes, she said.
Ballweg said the reduction is especially true in the tourism, bar, restaurant and event venues due to the pandemic.
Some of the relief funds from the federal government are being specifically targeted to those areas.
She expects to see more dollars for general transportation, as well as for conservation and water quality issues.
In addition, Ballweg presumes there will be extra funding for schools.
“I haven’t seen a conversation yet on state shared revenue,” she said. “We’ll see where it goes.”
Library Director Peg Burington told Ballweg the library has taken on the role of an employment center since the local Job Center closed.
“So more people are coming into the library – some for an hour,” she said.
More state funding to library systems would be helpful, Burington said.
Ballweg’s visit with city officials included a walk down Main Street to learn about that reconstruction project and a tour of the recreation center before returning to City Hall for a short listening session.
Megan Beardsley and Mindy Collado were among those who attended the session.
Collado is the director of operations for the Boys and Girls Club of the Tri-County Area, and Beardsley is its Green Lake site coordinator.
Both commented on the mental health needs of today’s youth due to the pandemic.
They see youth with depression, anxiety and stress and said mental health services are needed for children, especially after school.
Visit to Sunny Day
Ballweg also visited Sunny Day Child Care last Friday, during the 50th anniversary of the Week of the Young Child.
The former elementary teacher read a book to children before touring the facility with Director Rhonda Melby and Program Coordinator Tracy Jensen.
Melby told Ballweg about Sunny Day’s challenges and struggles during the past year due to the pandemic.
The child care center was closed for six weeks last spring and then lost about a third of its staff as some chose to not return due to COVID-19, she said.
Prior to the pandemic, there were more than 55 staff members. Now there are around 40 to 45.
Melby said they have received a lot of support from their families, thanking them for staying open.
“We have been very transparent,” she said in sharing information with the families about any positive COVID-19 cases.
Sunny Day has a waiting list again, but finding staff is a struggle, Melby said.
Investing in the child care sector is among the topics as the state’s 2021-23 budget is crafted.
Melby told Ballweg there needs to be nonpartisan support in the budget for child care and early childhood education and then it needs to be sustainable.
Virtual state budget sessions
The Joint Committee on Finance is holding public listening sessions this month to get feedback on what people believe the state should invest in during the next few years.
A statewide virtual session is being held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 28.
Registration for that session opened on Monday, April 19 and closes at 5 p.m. Monday, April 26.
People may visit legis.wisconsin.gov/topics/budgetcomments to preregister.
Ballweg said people will get a few minutes to speak.
She encourages them to tell a story.
Those who cannot attend the virtual session may also email comments to Budget.Comments@legis.wisconsin.gov.