Mark Harris Watch

Mark Harris was elected Winnebago County Executive in April of 2005. In his campaign literature, he chided incumbent Jane Van De Hey for "Saying One Thing, Doing Another." He also said that "Winnebago county deserves sound fiscal management."

To help keep the County Executive accountable, TonyPalmeri.Com will be keeping this Mark Harris watch throughout his tenure in office.

Tony Palmeri will be keeping a watch on Harris.

The archive will be entirely fair and balanced: it will link news stories along with any pro, anti, or neutral Harris pieces that may become available. No anonymous posts will be accepted.

TonyPalmeri.Com wants to help ensure that bamboozling, smoke and mirrors, and "saying one thing, doing another" are kept to a minimum in Winnebago County government. The MarkHarrisWatch represents just one small attempt in that direction.

If you are aware of articles, editorials, etc. that should be in the archive, or would like to submit a personal contribution, please email

General Information

8/24/06 Oshkosh Northwestern Editorial: Sure sign of the change in season: County sales tax

8/16/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: County sales tax talk renewed

8/10/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: Ground broken for new county nursing home

8/6/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: Tax bills, paychecks hang on union talks ahead

8/3/06 Appleton Post-Crescent: Lifest to resolve its noise problem

8/3/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: Lifest to address noise complaints

8/2/06 WBAY: Winnebago County Buildings Set Thermostats Higher

7/22/06 Appleton Post-Crescent: Employees get boost into home ownership

6/21/06 Oshkosh Northwestern Editorial: County should stop habit of rush to loan money

6/20/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: County considers industrial loan for archery range

6/16/06 Appleton Post-Crescent: Winnebago mulls emergency radio upgrades

6/11/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: Parks department may face fee increases, cutbacks

6/5/06 Appleton Post-Crescent: UWFV hopes counties will chip in for communication center

5/29/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: Court Commissioner hiring process on track

5/17/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: County Board Rejects Diebold Voting Machines

5/15/06 Appleton Post Crescent: Leader Pushes For US 41 Interchange Study

5/15/06: Sheboygan Press: County Exec--New 41 Interchange "A Priority"

5/15/06 Green Bay Press Gazette: Winnebago County Executive Calls New 41 Interchange "a Priority"

5/9/06 Oshkosh Northwestern: County Affirmative Action Panel Chair Resigns

Appleton Post-Crescent: Judges Fight to Keep Commissioner

Oshkosh Northwestern: Court Commissioner Position Debated

Oshkosh Northwestern: Second Heat For Raceway

Op-Ed News: Big Mouth Bush Told Clinton How To Handle OPEC

Green Bay Press-Gazette: Vote Scheduled on Taxpayer Amendment

Advance-Titan: Leaders say perception of UW Oshkosh has improved

Panel Chair To Resign

County Board Size Debate Brewing

Two highway workers killed on US 41

Audits: County, city sick leave liability near $6.5 million

Mark Harris turning into a tax and spend politician (Eye on Oshkosh--need to register)

Winnebago Okays Nursing Home

County Board Gives Go-Ahead to Park View

Officials Concerned About Tax Limitations

Harris back to debating sales tax on "Eye on Oshkosh" site

Mark Harris writing for Mike Norton?

Harris, Norton endorse Falk

Distance factors in lack of candidates

Harris Supports Falk For AG

Northwestern Editorial: Reform-Minded Harris Turns Into Typical Politician

Nursing Home Price Tag "Modest"

Tax Shift Bill Gets Mixed Reviews

Parkview Cost Exceeds Target

Federal cuts to child support collections would cost Winnebago County $1.4 million

County Boards Seek Candidates

New Track Proposals: Race of One

Editorial: County-city police force an idea whose time has arrived

Harris Letter to the Editor: House budget bill hard on low-income Americans

County Executive: Merge Police Forces

Tax Debate Could Return

Editorial: Board got it hal-right in rejecting half-cent sales tax

Supervisors nix county sales tax

Is the push for sales tax fading?

Rieckman: Put the credit card down

Quick Take: Group battles new tax (scroll down)

Editorial: Sheriff acting as chicken little

County Board Could Use Loophole

County budget hearings start tonight

Group Battles New Tax

Editorial: Downsizing at heart of county tax issue

Letter: Fine Chamber 50 cents

Letter: Sales tax issue should not rise on social giveaways (scroll down)

Letter to Bob Burnell, WOSH

Mark Harris' Response

Rieckman: Anyone want to buy a race track?

Letter: County must cut frills, luxuries from budget (scroll down)

Letter: Sales tax sensible way to preserve service

County Board to Consider Zoning

Northwestern Editorial: Budget review shows no need to increase taxes

Tax Freeze Not As Chilly For Some

County cuts less than expected

Winnebago budget cuts about 77 jobs

Harris' 2006 Executive Budget Message

Winnebago Budget: About 77 layoffs without sales tax

Fond du Lac eyes sales tax

The return of the cutting board size canard

Northwestern Editorial on Cutting Costs

Fuel burns cities, school

October 10, 2005 email from Mark Harris regarding the above link: The figures in the recent Post Crescent article described the County's fuel costs increasing by about $600,000 from the 2005 budget to the 2006 proposed budget.This increase should have been described as increased energy costs. The breakdown is roughly a $270,000 increase in the budget for natural gas, a $280,000 increase for electricity, and the rest for motor fuel. The point of the story that energy costs are puting pressure on local government, is very accurate but I do not want anyone to think the County consumes that much gasoline.
Mark L. Harris

Harris: Surplus not cure

Letter: Sales tax small price to pay for critical county services

Harris article from the October, 2005 issue of The Wavelength, the Winnebago County newsletter

41 Interchange study on the table

Letter: Sales tax small price for county services (scroll down)

Letter: Arguments of sales tax opponents don't hold water

Editorial: Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris proposed a higher, half-cent sales tax to cover that state-imposed tax levy freeze. County board members nixed that and told Harris to use a skill he learned as a banker: people with debt problems have to cut spending and consolidate costs first. Last we heard, Harris was working on their request.

Sales tax not pill for relief

Radio Commentary September 23, 2005 interview with Mark Harris

Quick Takes: County job cuts could reach 140

Letter: Approving sales tax sends message to Madison (scroll down)

Editorial corrects bogus county government growth numbers (note: This may be the most poorly written editorial ever committed to print. Why not just say: "In our zeal to serve as a mouthpiece for the the chamber of commerce come hell or high water, we allowed op-ed writer David Hayford to publish inaccurate data about the number of people employed by Winnebago County. We are sorry. In the future we will try to operate according to our own published ethical standards." I guess they can't say that because it would be a lie.)

Letter: Board must represents interests of all people (scroll down)

Local governments dealt a pricey blow

Letter: Harris not looking out for people he represents (scroll down)

Editorial: County causes worry in face of a need to innovate

Possible layoff count now at 140

Board delays tax vote

Exec: Board leaning "no" on sales tax

Harris makes the case for sales tax

Northwestern: Vote No on Sales Tax

Where Board members stand

David Hayford: Sales tax con

Letters on sales tax

PC: Board shouldn't vote yet on tax increase

Letter: County administrators the ones getting fat pay raises

Tax talk distraction now main delay in cost-cutting action

Bloechl Bashes Harris

Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce Action Alert

Realtors Association opposes sales tax

Opinion: Confronting vicious cycle of government arrogance and ignorance

"We're not in this mess because of labor contracts."

Panel rejects new tax

Committee votes against sales tax

Editorial: Harris can't in good conscience talk about a tax increase

Board is baffled by pay raises

Raises factor in sales tax debate

Harris article from the September 2005 issue of The Wavelength, the Winnebago County Newsletter

Harris article from the June 2005 issue of The Wavelength, the Winnebago County Newsletter

Editorial: State-mandated programs deserve to be state funded

Outagamie to fight unfunded mandates

Area jail counts, costs on the rise

Harris goes after non-union employees payout plans

Death to get more expensive in county budget

Legislature choices put Huber Center cut on center stage

Property Tax Cap Impact Studied

Winnebago Board largely undecided on county sales tax

Harris' Quick Take: "Paying the Price" (Harris' response to this story)

Northwestern Letter: Proposed sales tax calls for county house cleaning

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh #1 (sales tax)

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh #2 (sales tax)

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh #3 (sales tax)

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh #4 (sales tax)

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh #5 (sheriff's department budget bungle)

Eye on Oshkosh Sales Tax Thread

Stifled Sales Tax is Back on the Table

Editorial: Half-cent sales tax is no solution for Winnebago County

Leaders advise against dips into rainy day funds

Paying the Price

Attempt to cap Park View costs fails

Oshkosh carries Harris in race

Mark Harris campaign statement

Oshkosh Northwestern: Ten Questions For Candidate Harris

Harris November 29, 2001 Letter to Commentary: A vote against the budget at that time was a meaningless protest

County Executive Reports:

Useful information to counter bamboozling:

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh 1: Authored by: Mark L. Harris on Sunday, August 14 2005 @ 03:44 PM MDT
The impact of changing property values and the levy freeze are almost impossible to explain but here goes. The levy freeze as proposed by the assembly and modified by the Governor is intended to prevent local governments from getting additional revenue from the appreciation of existing properties. Tax rates will decline to offset overall appreciation. In theory a home with the average appreciation would experience no tax increase. County levies were already allocated to local communities like Oshkosh based on equalized market values. Oshkosh would then break down the total for the city based on its assessed values. A community that has reassessed will not be adversely affected relative to one that has not reassessed. The allocation of that tax within the community however will shift between properties based on assessed values. I know this is clear as mud but I did not make the rules. I will try to explain the sales tax in a subsequent post. Let me just point out that my proposal will include property tax reductions. Property owners whose incomes are low relative to the values of their homes may pay less tax. Most people and tourists will likely pay a little more tax.

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh 2: Authored by: Mark L. Harris on Monday, August 15 2005 @ 05:31 AM MDT
I do not like either of the two choices thrust on the County by the levy freeze but I must present the options to the board. I have been working with department heads and elected officials since June to peice together a budget that would hold the growth in total county spending to 2% without a sales tax. This is no small feat when you consider the cost of electricity, gasoline, and wages (under a three year contract) are all going up at a faster pace. Note that this would be a smaller growth in County spending than any of the past ten years and less than 1/2 of the average for that period. I am close to completing that budget but now must create an alternative with no increase in spending. You see the levy freeze will only allow an increase in property tax revenue to the extent of new construction. This will not fill the deficit built into recent budgets that relied on general fund to balance, let alone fill the gaps created by decreasing support from state and federal sources for things like medicaid reimbursements or the M.E.G. unit. Because we are so far along with the 2% budget I know that a 0% budget will require many layoffs, perhaps 100 or more. The 2% budget relied largely on new revenue from the strong 2005 appreciation in the property tax base. With the levy freeze taking that revenue away, a new source of revenue will be required to finance a 2% increase in spending. Under either plan the 2% with a sales tax or 0% without a sales tax some layoffs will be required. My preference between the two unpleasant choices is to use the sales tax so that the quality of most county services can be maintained. Remember that the county provides the social safety net and it serves the neediest and most vulnerable portions of our society. Also please note that the sales tax option will include a significant amount of property tax relief. The people you describe with little disposable income may save more in property tax than what they pay in sales tax. I do loose sleep over the people who may loose needed services and for those that may loose their jobs. I also know that the sales tax will be unpopular and that few taxpayers will ever really notice how much their County property tax rate declines. Tune into the September County Board special orders meeting to learn the details before you make your final decision.

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh 3: Authored by: Mark L. Harris on Monday, August 15 2005 @ 05:51 PM MDT
I will try to answer the questions and to ignore the deliberate distortions. I did not have any intention of asking for a sales tax as I worked with department heads to craft a budget that held the growth in County spending to 2%. Some additional spending cuts are still needed to reach that goal but we are close. That budget relied entirely on property tax. In recent weeks it became apparent that some layoffs and a very small rate increase would be needed to make the budget balance without use of the general fund. I did not think the Assembly and Governor would come together to put a levy freeze in place for next year. I did warn the Board in a televised presentation that the one bright spot in the budget was the growth in the tax base but that the elected officials in Madison might change that. Once the freeze escaped the Governor's veto with only minor changes, it was apparent that an additional three million dollars would have to be cut from the budget (removal of appreciation from the tax base and elimination of any possibility of a rate increase) or a new source of revenue would have to be found. If I was trying to be deceptive I would not have asked for a meeting with the editorial boards of the two major papers to lay out the situation in detail at the first opportunity.

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh 4: Authored by: Mark L. Harris on Monday, August 15 2005 @ 06:08 PM MDT
With regard to an earlier post suggesting that I am saying that everyone will benefit from the sales tax and related property tax relief, I have been very careful to make it clear that is not the case. Most people will pay more sales tax than the property tax relief they get. There will be winners and loosers. The people who do not pay property tax here but do spend money here will undoubtedly pay more. People who have high property values and relatively low disposable incomes will clearly pay less. Most people will fall between these extremes.

Harris to Eye on Oshkosh 5: Authored by: Mark L. Harris on Tuesday, July 12 2005 @ 05:42 AM MDT
The original error occurred about a year ago when a payroll estimate was prepared based on a snapshot of the payroll listing all active employees and their compensation on a given date. Part of the process requires an adjustment for positions that are vacant on the date of the snapshot. This is the missed step that went all the way through the budget process without detection.
The P&F committee does not develop or review the budget however the entire board does hold hearings on the budget once it has been completed. To catch this error a board member would have to notice that the total wages for the sheriff department were budgeted to increase by a smaller percentage than many other departments. This could have been found with a little computation about 190 pages into a 460 page budget.
Since discovery of the error the Sheriff has been working to make difficult cuts in spending to reduce the size of any transfer required to cover the error.
The taxpayers are paying a little less this year because this expense was left out of the levy but reserves will likely have to be used to cover the portion not offset by the Sheriffs belt tightening.
Proceedures have been added to ensure that payroll computations for all departments are reviewed in finance before they are incorporated in the 2006 budget. This process is well underway with most departments having allready submitted their 2006 payroll estimates.
I hope this adds some perspective.

Letter To Bob Burnell, WOSH


I've finally been able to clarify a couple of things with some people, and here's how I see how the levy cap directly affects actual job losses within the county.

I am told that the 12 positions being lost in the Sheriff's Department relating to the closing of the Huber Facility would be cut regardless of the levy cap. And, the 17 jobs lost at Park View relating to the closing of ICF/MR (I'm not exactly sure what that stands for) because the state wants that privatized and has cut off funding...if true, I would say that those jobs have nothing to do with the levy cap being imposed.

It's true that those are actual cuts, but are they related to the levy freeze like they are being made out to be?

If you don't consider those 29 cuts as being caused by the levy freeze, the actual number of people losing jobs because of the levy freeze is:

*29 Full Time

*5 Seasonal

*2 Part-time Seasonal

If the sales tax passes, they will add back in 23 full time positions and 4 seasonal positions...therefore, with the sales tax, the number of people losing jobs because of the levy freeze would be:

* 6 Full Time

*1 Seasonal

*2 Part-time Seasonal

In regards to the Sheriff's Department, 15 people will lose jobs (not including the Huber jobs (12) and the two unfilled dispatch jobs (2)). If the sales tax passes, they are to add back 17 positions. SO, if the sales tax passes, the Sheriff's Department will actually GAIN 2 employees.

I'd like for someone to explain how I am wrong. I think it's wrong for them to allow the public to think that 120-130 people would lose their jobs (or even 77 or whatever number it's down to) because of the levy's just not so.


Mark Harris' Response

What the author misses is that the add backs can only occur if a sales tax is adopted. I am only supporting a sales tax because of the levy freeze. Without passage of the sales tax many people will lose their jobs and many others will have their hours cut back. We have been under a hiring freeze for some time because I always intended to make several cuts even before the levy freeze and had hoped most would be from attrition (I have consistently said that there would be 30 to 40 positions cut even with a sales tax). From a budget standpoint eliminating a position that was funded in 2005 from the 2006 budget is a cut no matter how it happens. It costs the taxpayer a lot less if it is accomplished from attrition than from a layoff (think about
unemployment benefits, sick time payouts, and bumping).

The author is also somewhat though not totally mistaken about the nature of the closing of the ICFMR and the Huber center. It is true that these were likely to occur without the levy limitation but the loss of jobs and savings to the taxpayer are real. Some Counties may keep their ICFMR units most will keep their Huber centers.These two changes are 25 of the 30 to 40 positions identified prior to the levy freeze. The 2006 budget will have between 41 and 62 less positions than the 2005 budget and many other employees will have their paid hours cut but will retain their positions. I have identified the positions, talked about reduced FTEs from the reduction of hours and labeled them in my televised power point presentations, in my discussions with the press and in my budget summary document that I have circulated. If the author's point is that with the passage of a sales tax and add back of all the positions (something not yet decided by the Board) that only a relatively small number of people will receive layoff notices he is correct although I believe the number will be much higher than he computes. You would not say that no one really died from Katrina because some were sick and some were old before Katrina and some died from exposure, dehydration, or drowning after the winds had passed, and all would have died someday regardless.

I have been more forthcoming with information than any other politician that I know but it has been rewarded with coverage that says the property tax relief built into the sales tax resolution is not real because someone might raise property tax in future years; the spending cuts don't count because they might occur before year end and many were planned before the levy freeze, and that I pushed for a sales tax without considering any spending cuts as an easy way out. Do any of these sound like reasonable analysis to you?