Evening State News Briefs: Property values in state declineWisconsin News
-- Property values in Wisconsin fell by an average of one-point-eight percent last year – but the decline was only half of what it was the previous year.
Property values in Wisconsin fell by an average of one-point-eight percent last year – but the decline was only half of what it was the previous year.
State revenue officials said today that homes, businesses, and other properties had a total statewide value of $487-billion in 2010. The decline was about one-point-three percent less than it was in 2009. Last year’s drop in residential values was about the same in Wisconsin as it was nationally – around one-point-six percent. Last year was the third straight time that land values had fallen throughout the Badger State. Before then, property values had risen every year but one since 1959.
Wisconsin’s largest teachers’ union plans to lay off 40-percent of its staff members. Director Dan Burkhalter of the Wisconsin Education Association Council said today that 42 people who work for the union had received layoff notices. And he blamed it on what he called Governor Scott Walker’s “union-busting” legislation. The law allows teachers in districts without ongoing contracts to bargain only for salaries at-or-below inflation. Employees no longer have to pay union dues, and most public unions must hold certification votes each year to stay in existence. Burkhalter says WEAC is busy signing up members to stay with the group and voluntarily pay dues. He said the teachers’ union has made quote, “steady progress in signing up members” – and they expect even more progress once the school year begins in a couple weeks. Burkhalter said his union’s goal is to be a “strong and viable” organization that represents the voices of public school employees throughout the state. Local teachers’ unions in about 275 Wisconsin districts had their contracts expire at the end of June – and they’re operating under the new state law. Contracts in about 150 other districts were extended for another year-or-two – and they’ll stay in effect until they expire.
A teenager accused of shooting a Jefferson County man to death, and then dumping the victim’s body in a storage unit, has asked a judge to drop his homicide charge. 19-year-old James Richards made the request in court today before he was supposed to have a preliminary hearing. The dismissal request will be considered August 25th. And the preliminary hearing was moved up to September eighth. Richards’ co-defendant, 51-year-old James Richardson, waived his right to a preliminary hearing – in which the judge was supposed to decide if there’s enough evidence to order a trial. A plea is the next step in Richardson’s case. He and Richards are both charged with homicide, hiding a corpse, and theft in the death of 28-year-old Beau Butschke of Ixonia. Prosecutors said Butschke was shot with a gun the defendants stole from him a couple weeks before the mid-July shooting. His body was found at a storage facility in Ixonia 12 days after he was reported missing. Prosecutors said Richardson and Butschke were neighbors in a duplex – and they had ongoing arguments over Richardson’s refusal to properly maintain his half of the property.
Wisconsin is getting just over one-and-a-quarter million federal dollars to improve the state’s public health programs. All 50 states shared a total of $49-million in a grant that’s part of the Democrats’ health care reform package. Health-and-Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the grants today. Wisconsin’s funding is designed to improve disease-related lab work – find and prevent infections – and enhance immunization programs. Officials said the grants would also make it easier for health agencies to share-and-manage important information.
A Beloit couple who was stopped for speeding in northern Illinois has been arrested for carrying one-point-four million dollars of cocaine in large diaper boxes. The trooper pulled over the vehicle on Saturday near Rockford for speeding and driving in an improper lane. Officials said the trooper called for a drug-sniffing dog after he got suspicious about the couple. And the State-Line Area Narcotics Team later found 10 kilograms of cocaine in the vehicle. The suspects are a 30-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman. Both were being held in jail in Winnebago County Illinois while awaiting charges.
The chief prosecutor in Sauk County will decide whether criminal charges will be filed in a reported physical altercation between State Supreme Court Justices David Prosser and Ann Walsh Bradley. Dane County’s chief judge, William Foust, named Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett today as a special prosecutor. Sheriff’s investigators referred the matter to Dane County DA Ismael Ozanne late last month without recommending charges. Ozanne then asked for the special prosecutor, saying he didn’t want people to assume that politics would play a role in the decision on charges. Bradley has said that fellow justice Prosser put her in a choke-hold in her office on June 13th, but other reports said Bradley merely put up her fists and Prosser moved them aside. The incident was said to happen the night before the Supreme Court announced its decision to uphold the law that limits collective bargaining by most public employee unions. Ozanne had asked a circuit judge to strike down the law, but the Supreme Court later ruled against the DA in a sharply-divided 4-3 decision.
A poll funded by a conservative group gives former Governor Tommy Thompson the lead among possible Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate next year. The Club for Growth said 68-percent of GOP voters around the state gave their nod to Thompson for the Senate seat to be given up by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl. The group also said Thompson won a hypothetical head-to-head matchup against former Congressman Mark Neumann. Thompson got 40-percent of the support to Neumann’s 34-percent. The poll also said Thompson’s approval rating was smaller than other statewide Republican officials, including Governor Scott Walker. The national Club for Growth has opposed Thompson for next year’s Senate race, saying he once supported the national Democratic health care reform package. Thompson denied it when the comment was first made a few months ago. The state’s Club-for-Growth has supported Thompson. The poll interviewed 500 Wisconsinites with histories of voting in Republican primaries. The margin-of-error is plus-or-minus four-point-four percent.
If you go to jail in Wood County, you might have to pay for part of your accommodations. The County Board will be asked tomorrow to let the sheriff charge up to $33 for each day that inmates are behind bars. But Sheriff Tom Reichert says his initial plan is to charge two-dollars a day. That amount would bring in around $75,000 a year. Reichert says the fee is part of the “economic realities” his department faces in running the Wood County Jail in Wisconsin Rapids. It costs around two-and-a-half million dollars a year to run the facility – and the maximum fee of 33-dollars would cover the inmates’ average daily housing costs. The sheriff could change the amount of the fee once a year. Reichert says deputies would do everything possible to collect it – including deductions from the inmates’ future tax refunds, and civil lawsuits.
The City Council in Sheboygan will consider taking another step tonight toward removing embattled Mayor Bob Ryan. The aldermen will decide whether to hire an attorney to advise the Council in the matter – and then to allocate reserve funding to pay for those legal services. At least two-thirds of the Council would have to approve the fiscal measure. Last week, the Council voted 12-to-2 as a Committee-of-the-Whole to suggest spending whatever’s necessary to remove Ryan from office. That’s after he engaged in his third major alcohol-related episode since becoming Sheboygan’s mayor in 2009. Ryan admitted going on a weekend drinking binge in nearby Elkhart Lake in July in which he passed out at a tavern, got into a scuffle with a bar patron, and made sexually-explicit comments to several women. Ryan has rejected the Council’s request to quit. And if the Council removes him, he says he’ll challenge that action in court. The city would hold a quasi-judicial proceeding that’s similar to a trial. The city would pay for a special prosecutor, while Ryan would most likely have to pay for his own attorney. The Council would then decide whether to remove him – and a three-fourths vote would be required. Officials in Marinette considered a similar procedure against that city’s mayor, after Bob Harbick was convicted of drunk driving. But the Council decided not to pay the legal costs for a removal proceeding. Unlike Ryan, Harbick’s term expires next spring.