Enhanced Public Safety and Human Services, Investments in Infrastructure, Better Protections for Lakes and Lands Included
Calling it one of the toughest budgets she’s prepared in a dozen years, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk introduced her 2009 county budget today. Falk’s budget includes significant investments in public safety and enhances the best human service programs in the state, all while controlling property taxes.
“In these tough economic times it was even more important to prioritize public services and continue my 12 year stretch of self-imposed, strict property tax standards,” Falk said. “We’ve squeezed every nickel out of every dollar to ensure the increasing human service and public safety needs we’re seeing in this current economy are met, all while balancing the ability of families to pay.”
“In every one of my prior 11 budgets I’ve prioritized public safety, human services, and improving people’s quality of life. Now with families staying closer to home during these unsettling times, these priorities are even more important,” Falk said.
The $450 million Executive operating budget is an increase of 2.31%, or $10 million over the 2008 budget. Consistent with Falk’s self-imposed levy limit determined by the county’s population growth and inflation, it includes a property tax increase of 4.63%. The county property tax rate will drop a penny from $2.38 per $1,000 in assessed valuation to $2.37.
For the average Madison home, assessed this year at $248,000, the county property tax increase under Falk’s proposed budget would total $2.13 more than paid for this year’s budget.
“By exploring new efficiencies like selling natural gas and using new technology to extend the life of our landfill, renegotiating the county’s health contract and consolidating and selling county properties, we’re being responsible with the tax dollars of all our hard-working citizens. This budget invests in the public services they most want from county government,” Falk said.
Falk noted the new cost-savings measures helped offset reductions in revenue the county has experienced due to the significant slowdown in the economy, preventing the need for deeper cuts to important programs.
“This budget reflects the shared values of Dane County citizens,” Falk said. “It improves public safety through significant funding increases to the Sheriff’s Department and the Public Safety Communications Center. It makes the most comprehensive county human service programs in the state even better and ensures our lakes and lands are preserved and protected for our kids and grandkids to enjoy,” Falk said.
County Executive Falk's budget includes a number of public safety enhancements to Emergency Management, the Public Safety Communications (911) Center, and the Sheriff’s Department.
In Emergency Management, the county will dramatically increase its ability to utilize new technology to warn citizens of potential public safety risks. Using what’s called “reverse 911,” public safety agencies have had success sharing important information with the public. The county currently has the capability to dial several dozen phone numbers at one time using this notification technology. Falk’s budget will increase the number of phone numbers able to be dialed at the same time to 2,000.
“This is a case where through a relatively small investment ($12,000) we can reach a lot of families in a short amount of time with information vital to their health and well-being,” Falk said.
Falk’s budget expands a number of improvements in the Public Safety Communications 911 Center, including continued work on a first of its kind high-tech emergency radio network that will allow all emergency crews, even snow-plow operators, to easily talk with one another whether responding to traffic crashes or larger scale emergencies. This is referred to communications “interoperability,” and comes at the request of fire, emergency medical service, and police departments across Dane County. "One of the top areas of improvement identified after the terror attacks on 9/11 was the need for first responders to be able to talk with one another, regardless of the emergency service they provide and municipal boundaries. The county is proud to partner with our firefighters, EMTs, and police to help make the good work they do safer and more efficient."
In addition to the new radio system, the second largest capital budget project in Dane County history, Falk's budget also funds the purchase of Priority Police Dispatch, a high-tech, protocol-driven dispatching tool. Priority Police Dispatch ensures uniform responses by law enforcement. Falk’s budget makes Dane County the first in the state to utilize Priority Medical, Priority Fire, and Priority Police Dispatch.
To help implement these new technologies and reduce overtime in the 911 Center, Falk’s budget creates seven new Public Safety Communications positions. Six of these positions are communicators (dispatchers) and one is a supervisor to help coordinate additional quality assurance initiatives proactively started by 911 Center management. (See detailed Public Safety Communications initiatives attached)
Falk’s budget increases funding for the Sheriff’s Department by nearly $4.5 million for 2009 for everything from salaries and benefits for deputies to new squad cars and equipment deputies need to keep communities safe. The budget also funds 1000 hours of additional law enforcement patrols on Friday and Saturday nights to address continued problems with drunk driving. The increased dollars also reflect higher costs for fuel, ammunition, and inmate holding costs, and will pay for a department staffing study.
Falk noted her budget will create three new deputy positions in the Sheriff’s Department to start in September and two additional effective January 2010 pending the results of the study.
“We want to be sure we’re protecting public safety both effectively and efficiently and getting the most bang for our buck,” Falk said. “My budgets have added 128 new positions in the Sheriff’s Department. I think it’s important to do this thorough analysis and have all this information as we consider future staffing decisions.”
In light of the state not providing funding for Assistant District Attorneys for the District Attorney, Falk’s budget also adds a new paralegal position in the DA’s office to help prosecute criminal cases.
In addition to continuing the wide variety of human services Dane County offers for its most vulnerable citizens, Falk’s budget expands these efforts in several areas. Funding is included to hire two new child protective services workers along with a child protective services supervisor.
“Another sad reality of the current economic challenges we face is the increasing number of families struggling to make ends meet and the domino effect that can have on vulnerable kids,” Falk said. “Our county’s frontline care-givers work hard and help kids in tough situations everyday and this budget will allow us to do more of that vital work.”
The budget includes $360,000 in new funding to serve people with developmental disabilities, including an additional $210,000 in federal assistance the new county funding helps leverage for those services. A new position will help mentally ill persons who reside at treatment centers, like Mendota, re-integrate back into the community, reducing expensive stays at Mendota Hospital. Falk’s human services budget restores a proposed $22,000 cut to the Family Sexual Abuse Treatment (FSAT) program.
Falk’s budget creates a new specialist position to work with those with developmental disabilities on financial needs, includes a new position to work directly with the mentally ill and homeless to connect them with benefits they have coming to them, and also provides Living Wage increases totaling more than $327,000.
The human services budget also includes the new funding Falk recently announced as part of her initiative to counter the harmful affects of alcohol abuse in Dane County. (See attached)
Falk’s 2009 budget includes increased funding to repair and replace roads and bridges affected by the year’s severe weather events, including a record 100+ inches of snow that fell last winter. Major improvement projects are included in the department’s $3.1 million highway capital budget for work on:
*County Highway A (Albion to Tower)
*County Highway AB (Yahara Bridge to MN)
*County Highway B (Highway W to 73)
*County Highway C (Egre Road to Highway V)
*County Highway M and PD Intersection
*County Highway MS (Allen Boulevard to Segoe Road)
*Highway M Railroad Overhead Bridge
*County Highway B Bridge Deck
*County Highway N Dunkirk Bridge
*County Highway Y Bridge
“$3.1 million on roads and bridges is a significant investment for our important transportation infrastructure that keeps our citizens and economy moving,” Falk said. Falk’s budget proposal also includes money to purchase new technology to make the county’s snow-clearing efforts more effective. By putting GIS locaters in the highway trucks, the department will be able to better monitor where crews are during winter storms and better determine where additional plowing or salt may be needed to make roads safer.
Public Works is also utilizing new bioreactor technology to speed up decomposition of waste at the county landfill, which creates a methane gas by-product the county will convert into natural gas to sell. Eventually this landfill gas will be converted to Compressed Natural Gas that could be used to power county vehicles.
“The sky is the limit for this exciting new technology. There’s great potential to bring in new, non-tax revenue, save taxpayers on the cost of driving snowplows and squad cars, and improve our air quality,” Falk said. “The cutting edge work happening at our landfill is proof of the endless economic potential of pursuing alternative energy sources.”
To help combat the harmful affects of flooding many Dane County homeowners and farmers have experienced the past two summers, Falk’s budget includes major new investments to restore and preserve wetlands. Dubbed “nature’s sponges” these wetlands have the ability to hold millions of gallons of water that otherwise runs off into backyards and basements. Significant increases are also included for the Conservation Fund and the County’s Land and Water Legacy Fund. The budget also creates a first of its kind voluntary buy-out program for homeowners affected by flooding who aren’t eligible for other state and federal assistance and makes significant investments in improving lake water quality and reducing run-off. These are accomplished through more than $15 million in initiatives Falk announced this week. (See attached)
Among them, is the continued planning and eventual development of a manure digester for farms in northwest Dane County, dollars for a new county program to develop “buffer strips” along tributaries that flow into the Lake Mendota watershed, and increased funding for stream-bank restoration.
Falk’s budget now goes to the County Board for review and action. County committees will review the budget this month, before the spending plan goes to the full board for action in November. Falk will then approve, veto, or partially veto the budget once it returns to her desk. Final action on the budget is expected before Thanksgiving.
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