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Waukesha County levy rises less than 1% in Vrakas budget

Sept. 27, 2011 7:01 p.m. | Waukesha - Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas presented his 2012 budget to the County Board on Tuesday night, a spending plan with a tax levy increase of 0.6% - the lowest in nearly 30 years.

Vrakas said in an earlier interview that it was the toughest budget he's faced, given significant cuts in state funding, the continuing effects of the recession and the state-imposed tax levy limit that restricted its increase to the percentage growth in tax base from new construction.

Despite all that, the county is maintaining infrastructure and services, he said.

Most taxpayers would see no increase in the county portion of their tax bill, which the county calculates has increased $14 in five years for a median-valued home. With many property values dropping, the 4-cent increase in the county's proposed equalized tax rate - to $2.01 per $1,000 full market value - could even mean a drop in individual county tax bills this year. Municipal and school taxes make up a far greater share of tax bills.

Vrakas' proposed budget of $284.4 million is up 6%. Within that budget, spending of $244 million on operations is down 1.4%, largely from personnel and pension savings and because the state rather than the county will now contract for $3.5 million in services for children with autism and similar long-term care needs.

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Waukesha letter carrier arrested in suspected drunken driving

Sept. 27, 2011 4:22 p.m. | Waukesha - A 45-year-old postal service employee was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving on Saturday after police received a call that a mail delivery vehicle had struck other vehicles and was attempting to drive away without reporting the collisions, Waukesha police said Tuesday.

As they made their arrest of Scott L. Schepp, police officers found an open bottle of brandy on the floor board area of his postal vehicle, Capt. Ron Oremus said.

A preliminary breath test showed he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to police.

Officers determined that the postal vehicle hit vehicles that were parked in front of and behind it in the 900 block of Blackstone Ave. about 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Oremus said.

The postal vehicle also had fresh damage from a separate accident that is believed to have occurred just outside Waukesha city limits, Oremus said.

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Districts to see $30.4 million from investment firm charged by SEC

Sept. 27, 2011 1:05 p.m. | An investment firm charged with selling unsuitably risky investments to five Wisconsin school districts has agreed to settle the charges and pay $30.4 million, which will be distributed to the districts, U.S. securities regulators said today.

The Securities and Exchange Commission charged RBC Capital Markets LLC  with misconduct in the sale of unsuitable investments to the Waukesha, Whitefish Bay, West Allis-West Milwaukee, Kenosha and Kimberly school districts, and for inadequate disclosures about the risks of those investments, according to a news release.

RBC marketed and sold to trusts created by the districts $200 million worth of risky investments, for which the districts contributed $37.3 million of their own funds and borrowed the rest. The districts made the investments to help fund post-retirement benefits, which they had promised to employees.

"It's a great day for these five districts," said Stephen Kravit, an attorney representing the districts. He added that they had been vindicated in fraud, and that a significant portion of their losses would be paid immediately by RBC.

Districts can expect to receive their share of the money, distributed by the SEC through a formula, within 10 days.

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Fifth Waukesha Reads event set to begin

Sept. 26, 2011 6:08 p.m. | Waukesha - One book, one community and dozens of events over the next month - all to promote the joy and benefits of reading - will be centered on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskerville" in the fifth annual Waukesha Reads that kicks off this weekend.

More than 40 community partners have joined in organizing activities, from book discussions to films, mystery events to meals between Fridayand Oct. 30.

Free books and program information will be available at the Waukesha Farmer's Market on the Riverfront Plaza Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Copies are also available at the Waukesha Public Library while supplies last, as well. Program information is also available at www.waukeshareads.org/">www.waukeshareads.org.

Many but not all of the events are free.

Waukesha Reads started five years ago through a grant from the national Endowment for the Arts. Since 2010, it has been independently supported by the community.

Standoff ends on Waukesha's north side

Sept. 25, 2011 8:46 p.m. | An eight-hour standoff Sunday in Waukesha ended when officials arrested a 48-year-old Town of Summit man who had barricaded himself in a house.

Mark G. Koenig was taken into custody at 8:03 p.m. after Waukesha Police Tactical Unit officers used a Taser on him.

Officers were sent to a home in the 1600 block of Cedar Lane shortly after noon. Police said Koenig violated a restraining order and had threatened a victim and evaded police.

Since Koenig was suspected of arming himself with a .22 caliber rifle, officers set up a perimeter and told neighbors to either leave their homes or stay in their basements.

Officers shot baton and bean bag rounds at windows to make contact with Koenig, who refused to leave the house. Eventually the tactical unit entered the home and found Koenig barricaded in a bedroom. There were no injuries.

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Suburban drug sting ends in two arrests for dealing cocaine

Sept. 23, 2011 4:00 p.m. | A Milwaukee man faces more than 70 years in prison if convicted of selling cocaine to an undercover police officer in the cities of Brookfield and Waukesha, according to a criminal complaint.

Jose Gallegos Ramirez, 35, was held on $100,000 bail after making an initial appearance in Waukesha County Circuit Court on five felony charges and two misdemeanor counts.

According to the complaint:

Gallegos Ramirez met an undercover detective in the parking lot of Brookfield Square Mall, 95 N. Moorland Road, the evening of Aug. 4.

The detective purchased one ounce of cocaine from Gallegos Ramirez for $1,250.

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Waukesha County considers closing girls detention unit

Sept. 23, 2011 2:10 p.m. | Waukesha - Waukesha County would close its secure detention unit for girls next year and contract with Washington County for the service under a proposal outlined Friday by Health and Human Services Director Peter Schuler.

The estimated $200,000 saving would be used to fill other gaps in the department's budget, including replenishing a fund that pays for services aimed at keeping youth from more expensive incarceration or out-of-home placements, Schuler said.

The proposal will be included in County Executive Dan Vrakas' 2012 budget proposal, which he will release Tuesday. The Health and Human Services Committee will take up the budget Thursday.

A study group had been working since January to find efficiencies in the 36-bed Juvenile Center, which in recent years has operated far below capacity. It had not reached a conclusion, despite a May deadline, and Vrakas' plan effectively ends the committee's job.

"Our job is at an end," Corporation Counsel Tom Farley, who chaired the group, told members Friday.

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Vrakas announces Waukesha County small-business loan initiative

Sept. 21, 2011 4:34 p.m. | Waukesha - Existing Waukesha County small businesses with growth potential could get tax-financed, interest-free loans of up to $50,000 under an economic development initiative County Executive Dan Vrakas announced Wednesday.

Called the Small Business Leverage Loan Program, the effort would start with $300,000 next year, enough to serve a half-dozen businesses or more. The program is set for County Board action Tuesday.

Vrakas said he's been looking for an economic development tool that the county could use. Director of Administration Norman Cummings suggested the loan program after learning of a similar effort in Minnesota.

"A lot of companies can get around third base, but they need that extra push to get to home plate," Vrakas said in announcing the initiative at a news conference Wednesday.

Earlier Wednesday, in an appearance before the County Board's Finance Committee, which recommended approval of the program, Cummings said: "We are typically not in this business. But in these times and these kinds of difficulties," he said, the county needs to join the effort to help promote job growth, especially among small businesses.

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Waukesha Kmart closing by January

Sept. 21, 2011 10:32 a.m. | Kmart Corp. plans to close its Waukesha discount store, at 120 E. Sunset Drive, in January, according to a notice filed with the state Department of Workforce Development.

The permanent closing will result in 57 Kmart employees losing their jobs, the notice says.

This is the third closing notice filed for a Wisconsin Kmart store so far in 2011. The other stores are in Sheboygan and Burlington.

The company website shows 10 Kmart stores remaining in the Milwaukee area.

$3.5 million in incentives proposed for Woodman's in Waukesha

Sept. 19, 2011 10:00 p.m. | Waukesha - Woodman's Food Market, which has announced plans to build a grocery store on the vacant Spancrete Industries Inc. site at Highway 164 and E. Main St., will get up to $3.5 million in financial incentives from the city under a package unanimously recommended Monday by the city's Redevelopment Authority.

A proposed tax incremental financing plan states that Woodman's would develop a 243,753-square-foot grocery store and create 219 full- and part-time jobs, adding $15 million to the city's tax base when finished.

A public hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 12 at City Hall before the Plan Commission to seek approval of the proposed tax increment district and project plans. Approval of a Joint Review Board of other government representatives must also be obtained.

The Common Council is expected to act on a rezoning request for the project, changing the land use from industrial to commercial, at its Oct. 4 meeting.

In a letter to Common Council members, Community Development Director Steven Crandell said the tax incremental financing plan will provide incentives for redevelopment of a blighted area.

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Robbery spree covers three counties

Sept. 19, 2011 6:12 p.m. | A masked man has captured the attention of police, not just because of the number of armed robberies he has committed - 15 so far, all in the past month - but the unusual geographical breadth of his hits.

He has covered eight police jurisdictions in three counties, hitting gas stations and liquor stores near freeways and highways in the greater Milwaukee area. And he's not working alone; after the robberies, he jumps into the passenger seat of a getaway vehicle.

"What is kind of unique here is the fact that it's spread out in such a wide range of jurisdictions, from Ozaukee to Waukesha County, Milwaukee County," Milwaukee police Lt. Kenneth Grams said Monday. "So that's fairly . . . I'm not going to say unique, but that's not real common."

The man started his armed robbery spree just before 10 p.m. Aug. 18 at the S&M Petro Mart on Stevenson St. in Milwaukee.

Since then, the man has committed 14 more nighttime robberies, police said. All the stores are within a mile of major highways, and all the robberies except one occurred between 8 and 11 p.m. Three of the robberies were repeats at stores he previously had hit, Grams said.

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Bomb squad removes blasting cap in Waukesha subdivision

Sept. 14, 2011 3:06 p.m. | The Milwaukee bomb squad was called to a subdivision in Waukesha on Tuesday after someone found a blasting cap with explosives.

A dispatch log shows Waukesha police received a call shortly after noon Tuesday from someone digging in a backyard in the 2800 block of Highfield Road who uncovered a round object with the words "explosive device" on it.

The item was a 3-inch yellow blasting cap with a wire coming out of one end.

The bomb squad was called out to pick up the blasting cap.

A Waukesha police officer said blasting caps are small explosives that construction workers sometimes use to blast through rock when digging out basements. He said the cap may have been a leftover from when the subdivision was built years ago.

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Waukesha to consider rezoning for Woodman's Food Market

Sept. 12, 2011 1:26 p.m. | Waukesha - The Plan Commission is scheduled to take up a rezoning request Wednesday that, if approved, would make way for the opening of a Woodman's Food Market on an industrial site now owned by Spancrete Industries Inc.

Both companies are requesting that the nearly 34-acre property at Highway 164, or Les Paul Parkway, and E. Main St. be rezoned from manufacturing and industrial to a community business district.

Planner Doug Koehler said staff will be recommending approval.

Woodman's announced last month that it planned to open a store and gas station on Waukesha's east side in the summer of 2013, pending city approvals.

The plan submitted to the Community Development Department shows about 19 acres of the site used for the grocery store and parking for 722 cars. Six out-lots ranging from just under an acre to 1.8 acres are shown for future development, mostly along Main St. The gas station would occupy about 1.4 acres. Two storm-water retention ponds on the east and west sides of the property would occupy 2.7 acres.

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