City will pay food center’s utility bills

Money will come from county

Shawano officials on Wednesday approved a memorandum of understanding with Shawano County that will allow the county to continue paying the utility bills for the Shawano Area Food Center.

Under the agreement, the city will pay the bill but with money provided to the city from the county.

“We’re just agreeing to be a conduit for that transaction,” City Administrator Brian Knapp said. “We don’t have any financial liability for it if the county decides not to support them. We wouldn’t be on the hook for continuing to provide support.”

Utility bills have been the food center’s biggest expense and have usually ranged from $9,500 to $12,000 a year, according to the county.

The agreement calls on the county to provide the city with up to $12,000 to pay the bills.

An opinion by the state Attorney General last month raised questions about the county’s annual contribution to the food distribution center.

Attorney General Brad Schimel issued a formal opinion to Shawano County Corporation Counsel Tony Kordus concerning whether a county board is legally authorized to appropriate money to a private nonprofit food pantry.

Schimel concluded that state statutes do not give county boards that authority.

“While county boards may establish and operate programs to serve the residents of the county who need assistance in securing adequate food, the statute does not grant authority to make appropriations to nonprofits to perform this task,” Schimel wrote.

The opinion does not apply to cities and villages, which are granted broader home rule under the state constitution.

Schimel’s opinion notes exceptions to the rules allow for county contributions to assist victims of domestic violence and other crimes, as well as other organizations that provide services to the elderly and handicapped.

In short, statues allow for donations to any entity, including the city, that promotes the health and welfare of the general public, but doesn’t cover direct assistance to food pantries.

The Shawano Area Food Center, part of the national Feed America program, distributes food to 21 food pantries and other outlets in the area, including the Shawano Area Food Pantry and Resource Center.