Partnerships Help Close $8 million Deficit; Capital Budget Lowest Since 1999; Executive Makes Human Services Top Priority, Charts Course to Restore AAA Bond Rating
Navigating deep cuts from state government, the most restrictive levy limitations in Wisconsin’s history, and a sluggish economy, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi released his inaugural budget today.
The document protects “the Dane County Promise” through new partnerships, continues the county’s commitment to top-notch human services and public safety, charts a course back to its AAA bond rating, and contains the lowest level of capital expenditures since 1999.
“It is without hyperbole that I have referred to this as the most difficult budget in Dane County’s history,” said Parisi. “While this budget is not without extremely painful layoffs and other cuts, I believe it maintains the core values that make Dane County a place of opportunity for all of our residents.”
The County Executive wasted no time in addressing the $8 million deficit in his 2012 budget, assembling his budget team the afternoon of his inauguration to begin the process of finding solutions to the challenges ahead.
Painful cuts from the state had a substantial impact on human services and youth aids, highways, child support, and shared revenue. The Governor’s elimination of collective bargaining, together with a historic restriction on local levies and a reduction in economic revenues in the Treasurer’s Office and the Register of Deeds that help fund core county services, further complicated the county’s budget picture.
Despite these challenges, the County Executive worked with county employees, local governments, policy makers, and Dane County residents to find solutions to balance the 2012 county budget and protect core services.
THE DANE COUNTY WAY
By working with county employees, Parisi saved nearly $2 million for his budget in 2012. Earlier this summer, the county achieved $1 million in health care savings through a new contract with Physicians Plus and the collective bargaining agreements negotiated in 2010. An existing voluntary leave program was also made more flexible, allowing all county employees to help realize $680,000 in savings by voluntarily taking time off without pay throughout the year. Employees were also asked for their cost saving suggestions throughout the budget process – their ideas helped save the county an additional $350,000.
A fourth addition to this effort is a new collaboration between the Dane County Department of Public Works, Highway and Transportation and the Dane County Department of Land and Water Resources. Parks employees, many former employees of the Highway Department, will now assist with snow removal efforts during significant winter storm events. In addition, the County Executive’s budget restores four positions in the Dane County Highway Department, ensuring timely snow removal in the winter and safe roads for Dane County residents.
Between these restored positions and the new partnership with parks employees, the county highway department will head into this winter with staffing levels at, and even potentially exceeding, last winter.
A new partnership with Madison College culminated this summer through talks with the educational institution, the County Executive’s office, and the Sheriff’s Department, and will result in improved public safety and job skills training for future police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical responders. Madison College has submitted an offer to purchase county land adjacent to the Dane County Law Enforcement Training Center in the town of Westport for the construction of a new public safety training course and facility. This transaction helps increase the county’s general reserve fund for 2012.
Two new partnerships with the Clean Lakes Alliance and Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District respectively will realize $100,000 in new non-tax revenue for the Department of Land and Water Resources, restoring important positions to the county’s efforts to clean up the Yahara chain of lakes.
HUMAN SERVICES AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Announced earlier this week, the County Executive’s budget restores nearly $1.9 million in cuts to human services, delivering on a promise to make these important programs a top priority, and economic development initiatives from his Dane County Jobs and Prosperity Project to help strengthen the county’s economy.
50% of Parisi’s budget will be dedicated to services for to children, seniors, mentally and developmentally disabled youth and adults, and families struggling to make ends meet during the great recession. (Please see attached list of human services restorations). 30% of the total restorations will go to funding for critical services to aid adults and children with developmental disabilities.
The County Executive’s budget contains a new proposal that weds human services and economic development – the Life Skills and Employment Initiative. Parisi’s initiative partners the county with Operation Fresh Start (OFS) and other community leaders in providing at-risk youth with the tools, connections, and skills necessary to land and keep a job.
The Life Skills and Employment Initiative will provide $62,730 to Operation Fresh Start to help fund a new 15-person work crew. Dane County Human Services, the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, the Urban League and Centro Hispano will provide Operation Fresh Start with youth referrals to fill the crew. This will help young people from some of our most challenged neighborhoods gain valuable educational and work experience that will help set a path for them to succeed throughout their lives.
Other economic development proposals stemming from the County Executive’s Dane County Jobs and Prosperity Project are also included in his budget. A key component of this plan is the creation of a Dane County Office of Jobs and Prosperity, a county entity that will help coordinate, communicate, initiate, and strengthen regional efforts to strengthen the county’s diverse economy and workforce. (Please see attached summary for additional information on those proposals.)
Parisi’s budget also includes aid to the Dane County Veterans Service Office, funding new case management tools to enable the office to better serve and communicate with servicemen and women, and help them reintegrate into their home and work lives when their missions are complete. Veterans’ Service Officer B.J. Ganem will utilize these new resources to proactively work with the high number of our returning veterans who face challenges, before those difficulties spiral into unemployment, homelessness, severe mental illness, or substance abuse.
Early in his term, Parisi partnered with Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney to obtain $1 million in savings through the partial closure of the minimum-security, work release Huber Center. In addition to saving around $750,000 in next year’s budget through un-funding ten deputy positions, this efficiency also created immediate savings the Sheriff’s Department is already experiencing in 2011. These vacancies will save the county at least $250,000 this year, improving our year end general fund balance.
Continuing this collaboration with the Sheriff to find additional savings, the County Executive’s budget adopts an overtime reduction initiative that will save over $300,000 and reduce the Sheriff Department’s overtime expenses (as a percentage of total salaries) to its lowest levels since 2009.
The County Executive also provides additional support for the county’s 911 Center, restoring proposed operational staffing cuts to maintain current levels on the dispatch floor, and authorizes operating funds required to implement public safety upgrades for first responders – a new emergency communications system (DaneCom) and a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system to help decrease response time to emergencies.
Parisi’s budget contains a new public safety partnership for 2012, funding the county’s share of a new “Opiates Task Force” in the Public Health Department. This new effort will bolster the ability of public health and law enforcement to confront the scourge of opiate abuse hurting our community. Heroin and prescription drug overdoses and deaths have increased dramatically in recent years. Several news accounts have profiled countless other close calls in which lives were in jeopardy because of the highly addictive nature of these drugs.
In addition, the County Executive’s budget includes funding for a study to explore efficient use of space in the Dane County jail, specifically as it pertains to prisoners with physical and mental disabilities.
Public safety comprises 20% of the County Executive’s total county budget, the second greatest investment of county budget dollars, and contains efficiencies, as well as upgrades, to public safety services that keep Dane County residents safe.
PARTNERING FOR HEALTHY LAKES, LANDS; RECREATION FOR ALL RESIDENTS
Parisi’s budget continues to build on initiatives announced as part of his Dane County Water Partnership, a new five-year plan to address pollution in our lakes that he launched this summer.
To that end, the County Executive’s budget contains a new agreement between Dane County and the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) to invest in further reducing phosphorus pollution that harms our lakes. Given the expertise of Land and Water Resources staff, and the shared goals of MMSD and the county, MMSD will provide $50,000 to fund ongoing county staff efforts to address phosphorus reduction in 2012.
Parisi’s budget also forges a new partnership with the recently formed Clean Lakes Alliance, a private entity that focuses on raising funds and promoting community awareness of lake water quality issues and action steps. The Clean Lakes Alliance will provide the county with $50,000, enabling the organization to market sponsorships for the county’s successful “Take a Stake in the Lakes” event, as well as restore a vital position in the Lakes and Watershed Commission.
The County Executive’s capital budget also expands the storm water pipeline retrofitting project originally proposed in the Dane County Water Partnership. These pollutant pipelines directly funnel debris from streets and yards directly into the lakes, increasing phosphorus pollution from urban run-off and increasing lake levels. An additional $100,000 investment will be made to this project to allow the Department of Land and Water Resources to partner with more communities to shut down these pipelines that damage our lakes.
The County Executive’s budget continues two critical programs to preserve the quality of life Dane County residents value deeply. The Partners for Recreation and Conservation (PARC) grant program will continue with a $500,000 investment from the county.
PARC grants help communities across the county invest in projects that will help them strengthen their local economic development efforts through improvements to tourism, recreation, and conservation. The County Executive also provides $2 million for the Conservation Fund to continue the county’s commitment to preserving natural resources for decades to come.
GREEN SOLUTIONS FOR PUBLIC WORKS, HIGHWAYS
The County Executive’s budget takes the next steps in improving county infrastructure and reducing the county’s consumption of fossil fuels by increasing the use of bio-fuels in county vehicles and starting in 2012, to heat county facilities.
Parisi’s budget invests in the purchase of a compressed natural gas (CNG) filling station at the county’s Rodefeld Landfill. For the past two years, the county, through a partnership with local leading companies in the bio-fuels industry, has run a CNG station as a pilot project at the county’s landfill. This station converts bio-gas from the landfill into CNG to fuel county cars and trucks, a fleet that has been increasing over the years.
The capital budget includes funding to construct a new highway facility to improve service in the eastern half of the county for areas between Sun Prairie and Stoughton. Slated for construction adjacent to the Rodefeld Landfill, this new garage will be powered and heated by bio-gas from the landfill and virtually off the grid.
Similar features, including additional opportunities for solar power, are included in designs for a new airport maintenance facility in the County Executive’s budget. Preliminary research has shown that pumping in bio-gas from the Truax Landfill can provide heat and hot water to the building.
The County Executive’s budget also provides for the creation of a new transfer station at the county landfill, helping to extend the life of the landfill and serving as the new home of the Department of Public Health’s very popular “Clean Sweep” program. The transfer station will enable Clean Sweep to operate year round, and will reduce the volume of construction waste and other recyclable materials that currently end up in the landfill. The transfer station will also generate new revenue opportunities through recyclable steel, concrete, and other re-useable materials.
Parisi’s budget contains the county’s $5.2 million share for road reconstruction, including projects for the next phase of University Avenue and Monona Drive, and a reconstruction of Fish Hatchery Road/County Highway D. Also included in these projects is a reconstruction and redesign of County Highway J, including bike lanes to improve safety for motorists and cyclists accessing the Military Ridge State Bike Trail.
SOUND FISCAL MANAGEMENT - RESTORING THE COUNTY’S AAA RATING
The County Executive’s budget directs the Department of Administration to conduct a five-year Strategic Financial Plan targeted at strengthening the county’s financial foundation in the wake of consecutive years of challenging economic times. The plan will ensure that the county is prepared to benefit from a national economic turnaround, and implements financial best practices for future budgets. This is one of the many measures in the County Executive’s budget to help the county restore its AAA bond rating.
Parisi’s budget increases the general reserve fund, projects realistic revenue estimates, and corrects $4 million worth of long-standing revenue and expense variances for fixed expenses such as heat, water, gas and other utilities, and variable expenses such as overtime.
Parisi’s budget also employs conservative revenue estimates in his 2012 budget. Should revenues outperform these estimates, the county’s general fund will benefit, further strengthening the case for a renewed AAA bond rating. Conservative budgeting practices such as these, employed in the last budget by Former County Executive Kathleen Falk and the Dane County Board, provided an additional $2 million in sales tax revenue to help preserve services in Parisi’s 2012 budget.
The County Executive budget’s combined operating and capital budget total is $490.7 million, a decrease of $9.2 million over last year. The operating budget is $475.3 million, an increase of $1.5 million. The capital budget at $15.4 million, is the lowest since 1999 – a 41% decrease from a year ago.
Parisi’s budget proposes an increase of $26.29 in the taxes on the average Madison home; that translates to a 3.99% increase on this December’s property tax bill.
“Given the continued financial pressures on working families, I am sensitive to the effect this increase, combined with other levy increases from schools and local units of government, will have on residents,” said Parisi. “I will be working closely with the county board and will urge restraint in increasing this levy further - - especially considering the range of human and public safety services already restored by the modest levy increase included in my budget.”
The County Executive’s budget will now be sent to the Dane County Board for review and approval. Parisi has been reaching out to Dane County Supervisors throughout the budget process to incorporate their ideas and goals into his proposal. Historically, county committees meet in October to review the proposal and bringing it to the full board for final approval in Mid-November. The County Executive has the power to approve, veto, or partially veto the spending plan that is returned to him.
# # #