MARINETTE — After some intense discussion on Monday, the Marinette County Economic Development & Tourism Committee forwarded to the county's Finance & Insurance Committee a draft resolution asking the Wisconsin state legislature to authorize any county to impose up to a 0.5 percent sales tax in order to fund community and economic development. 

The resolution draft, which asked the state legislature to enact legislation "in a timely fashion," referenced the request from Fincantieri Marinette Marine to provide financial support for facility upgrades. The shipyard is seeking to modify its shipyard to be conducive to building frigate-class ships for the U.S. Navy or multi-mission surface combatant (MMSC) for the Saudi Arabian Navy. Marinette Marine is looking for about $100 million for improvements to the shipyard for construction and the Menominee River for launching purposes. 

County Administrator John Lefebvre reiterated that Marinette Marine had originally sought $15 million to $20 million in local support. 

"We've come to the conclusion that if they're looking for the county to give them some money, monetarily, the only way that that's going to happen is if we have some funding mechanism to do that," he said. "The funding mechanism would be an additional sales tax: Not the property tax to Marinette County, it would be a sales tax." 

Lefebvre added that Marinette County had previously adopted a resolution in December 2016 which requested the state legislature enact legislation authorizing counties to impose up to a 0.1 percent sales tax exclusively for economic development, tourism and infrastructure for the same. 

"You're looking at needing that amount of money, possibly from the sales tax, to pay down any potential bond that the county would take out for this venture," he said. 

Lefebvre said, as a side note, that Marinette Marine had also considered taking out a loan from Marinette County, to the tune of $50 million. The potential loan would have no financial impact for the county, he said, as Marinette Marine would be contracted to pay back the loan within the time frame of the shipbuilding contract. The Finance & Insurance Committee is set to discuss the possibility of a loan in the near future. 

County Board Chairperson Mark Anderson said that Marinette Marine's plans for the Saudi Arabian MMSC design were due by the end of April, and that the county's financial involvement would depend entirely upon whether or not Marinette Marine receives the contract for the ships. Marinette Marine should know whether or not it will be building the Saudi Arabian ships by mid-summer. 

Bill Stankevich, District 5 county board supervisor, said he didn't think Marinette Marine's financial needs were the county board's problem. 

"I don't think it's our place," he said. "If they're not financially stable enough to take this on, they should probably just stick to what they've got and make their money that way." 

Lefebvre said he thought the request was less about financial stability and more about community support. 

"We need to make sure that we show them that support," he said. "If we are going to grow economic development in the county, and we can do it through granting a loan with 100 percent payback with interest, and have that opportunity to do that, I think the county really needs to think really hard about that." 

Shirley Kaufman, District 26 county board supervisor and committee chair, reminded the committee that the group was considering the resolution asking for sales tax legislation, not the county's potential loan to Marinette Marine. 

Ginger Deschane, District 12 county board supervisor, said she didn't have a problem with the potential change to the county's bond rating, and said she was completely in favor of supporting the county's largest employer: However, she added that she was disappointed it had taken the committee so long to discuss the topic, and said that a sales tax increase would not be popular among county residents. 

"This is not going to popular with mom and pop," she said. "It may be needed, it may be a really good thing, but it ain't gonna be popular. And there are a lot of people that will go to Green Bay to shop. ... You know, you've finally got the (Pine Tree) mall looking a little bit better — it's not a complete wasteland — and this may very well shoot that in the foot." 

Kaufman added that the county would have to undergo some major community and housing development in the event the shipyard secured a contract, especially if Marinette Marine's estimate of adding 400 employees to its work force is accurate. Anderson agreed, and said the Saudi Arabian naval contract could also mean the arrival of about 90 Saudi Arabian sailors and families for training aboard the vessels. 

The committee unanimously recommended the resolution for approval to the Finance & Insurance Committee. 

The soonest the Wisconsin state legislature could move to create and pass legislation, Anderson said, would be in January 2019, when the next legislature session begins. According to Lefebvre, a majority of the county's state legislators were on board with the potential legislation.