County officials are still mulling whether to restore $500,000 in funding for a largely untried technology that supporters say could reduce phosphorus runoff into Dane County’s lakes.
A motion to restore the funds for a nutrient content system at the town of Springfield manure digester is one of 16 capital and 39 operating budget amendments the county’s Personnel and Finance Committee will consider when it meets at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
A large number of other proposed amendments to County Executive Joe Parisi’s preliminary budget are intended to address homelessness, cost of living increases for county service providers, and recommendations outlined in a report on racial disparities and mental health problems in the Dane County Jail.
The County Board had set aside $300,000 for the digester project in the 2013 budget and $500,000 more in both the 2014 and 2015 budgets, but concerns about the cost of the technology and its effectiveness in reducing lake-fouling runoff prompted County Sups. Tim Kiefer, 25th District, Waunakee, and Carl Chenoweth, 35th District, Stoughton, to call for removal of the final $500,000 of the project’s funding from the 2016 budget.
At their urging, the county’s environmental committee voted 4-0 to remove funding for the nutrient concentration technology, which further processes discharge from anaerobic digesters, separating water from manure and producing potable water and an ultra-concentrated fertilizer.
But in an amendment introduced Wednesday, Chenoweth and County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan, 26th District, Middleton, have asked to restore the funding with conditions.
Parisi’s office has already selected Aqua Innovations, of Beloit, to install the treatment system, but the amendment’s conditions would require presentation of a business plan, confirmation of phosphorus reduction and water quality improvement, and acquisition of Department of Natural Resources permits before the purchase could be completed.
Advocates have said the ultra-concentrated fertilizer produced by the system would reduce the volume of fertilizer farmers need to apply to fields. But skeptics have said less volume is no guarantee fewer algae-causing nutrients would reach lakes because the fertilizer is more concentrated.
Corrigan, who sits on the Personnel and Finance Committee, said she’s supportive of funding the nutrient concentration technology if it works, but feels the County Board hasn’t gotten firm answers on the technology’s effectiveness in reducing runoff.
“For every gallon of the reduced concentrate they put on, they have to have at least an 80 percent of reduction in runoff per gallon put on the field in order to just stay even with phosphorus,” Corrigan said. “So, we really are approaching virtually no runoff to have this pay off.”
Josh Wescott, chief of staff for Parisi, said the county executive is supportive of the County Board’s amendments, except for barriers to the nutrient concentration systems installation.
“He’s not supportive of the language included in the latest amendment,” Wescott said. “We worry it will delay the projects for many, many more months than it has to be.”
A separate amendment from Kiefer would eliminate $75,000 for a feasibility study about installing the same technology at the county’s other digester in the town of Vienna.
One of the board’s more expensive amendment proposals would provide an additional $205,888 for cost of living adjustments for Human Services providers that contract with the county. Parisi had budgeted a 0.5 percent increase, but the amendment would bump the increase to 0.7 percent.
Supervisors also offered a variety of amendments dealing with race and equity in county government and the criminal justice system.
Parisi’s preliminary budget called for establishment of an Office of Equity and Inclusion that would inform county decisions and help recruit employees of diverse backgrounds for the county government’s workforce. An amendment to be considered Thursday would make the office a standalone county department, outside of the executive’s office.
Another amendment would increase funding to the county’s new community court for young, first-time offenders, and a separate amendment endorsed by the Public Protection and Judiciary Committee would provide $75,945 to create a criminal justice data analyst, which would comply with the paramount recommendation in September’s jail work group report.
The report gathered recommendations intended to combat racial disparities and mental health problems in the county jail from three groups of community members. In an overarching theme, all three groups agreed the county should collect and monitor more data on race, gender and ethnicity to help pinpoint and address areas of racial disparities in its criminal justice systems.
Parisi has said the timing of the report precluded many of its recommendations from being built into the executive budget, but Corrigan expects that more of the recommendations with costs associated will be implemented in the 2017 budget.
“We really tried to include quite a few items that really begin to attack those recommendations,” Corrigan said.
The Personnel and Finance Committee is expected to make the last major changes to the budget before it goes to the County Board on Monday for adoption. If all 39 operating amendments are adopted, the county would use its entire $161.7 million authority under the state-imposed levy limit.