Predicting a drain on their construction budget, Outagamie County officials are adding their voices to the chorus of boos directed at the state’s new prevailing wage law.
“We don’t have the authority to say we’re not going to abide by it,” said Jim Pleuss, chairman of the county’s Legislative/Audit and Human Resources Committee. “But we can send a message that this could cost a lot of extra money, paperwork and higher bids. The point is to give a position.”
The Outagamie County Board of Supervisors is expected Tuesday to introduce a resolution calling for a repeal of prevailing wage changes that went into effect Jan. 1.
John Reinemann, legislative director for the Wisconsin Counties Association, said Outagamie’s resolution would bring to 17 the number of counties that have officially opposed the changes since July 2009, when the measure became law in the state budget bill.
But predicting problems does not mean they will become reality, said Robb Kahl, executive director of Construction Business Group, a joint labor-management organization that supports the new law. Counties, he said, do not have the evidence to support their opposition.
“Obviously there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what this law means and that work’s not being put out because it’s going to cost more,” he said. “But they haven’t even given a chance for the law to be implemented.”
Those changes to the law require contractors prove they are paying prevailing wages to employees working on state and local public works projects valued at $25,000 or more. Under previous law, the proof was not required unless the project was valued at $234,000 or more.
The changes also require contractors provide the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development with monthly payroll reports to prove they are paying the wages.
Alvin Geurts, Outagamie County highway commissioner and president of the Wisconsin County Highway Association, said the changes put too much burden on county staff and could jeopardize projects the county planned to do for local municipalities.
“I think local governments rely heavily on the county,” he said. “Numerous commissioners have voiced very loud and clear their concerns that they won’t be able to do projects like bridge repairs and paving that go above and beyond maintenance.”
State law exempts counties from paying prevailing wage for work on their roads or for minor maintenance work — crack filling, sealing or minor pavement patching — for local municipalities.
But if, for instance, Outagamie County overlays pavement, repairs a bridge or replaces a culvert pipe for a town, city or village, Geurts said, the work now is subject to prevailing wage because the threshold is lower.
The $25,000 threshold, he said, could affect more than 100 projects scheduled for 2010.
“A lot of work we do comes in around $100,000,” Geurts said. “And if the bids we have and the projects we let come in at higher costs than we had a year ago, then we start looking at scaling back the amount of work we planned for last year.”
Geurts said the county performed 10 prevailing wage projects this year.
“If the changes don’t impact the cost of delivering projects, then I’ll report that to the County Board,” he said. “But I’m already seeing the administrative effort involved with this.
We’ve got one lady who’s spending two or three hours a week trying to get our reports done and local governments asking us to help with their reports, too.”
Kahl said the county’s opposition is premature. The law, he said, was sidelined for five months because of an injunction request by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin Inc. A circuit court judge last week rejected that request.
Kahl predicted that once the work season moves into full swing, counties will realize there is no need to raise an alarm.
“They’re screaming, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater,” he said, “and the show hasn’t even started yet.”