Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today proposed a $399.9 million county budget for 2004, saying the budget reflects a strong commitment to human services and public safety.
“Tough budgets require tough decisions. My budget makes decisions that preserve our citizens’ priorities for human services and public safety,” said Falk. “We protect services for children, seniors, and families. We keep law enforcement strong. We cut government and make government more efficient, and we save taxpayer dollars. We struck the right balance.”
The budget authorizes $381.2 million for operations in 2004, and a separate capital budget includes $18.7 million for capital projects, which are dollars used for purchase of long-term assets such as buildings, roads and parks. The taxpayer funded county property tax levy is $97.5 million. Sales tax brings another $39.7 million into county coffers. Property tax and sales tax, together, are referred to as General Purpose Revenue (GPR).
The biggest challenge Falk faced in crafting the budget was the loss of about $8 million in state funding in 2004. Using a process of sharing the pain across all of county government, she embarked on a combination of cuts, efficiencies, mergers and revenue enhancements to fund county priorities.
Despite the unprecedented loss of state funds, a down economy, and the demands brought on by record-setting population growth, Falk holds the levy increase to 4.85%. Falk decided on an increase above her standard guideline of increasing the budget no more than the combination of population and inflation, which this year would be 3.7%. The difference between the two percentage increases for an average Madison homeowner is $6.19.
The budget reduces the net property tax rate by a dime from $2.99 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2003 to $2.89 for 2004.
“This meets the Governor’s request to local governments to hold down spending,” said Falk. In fact, the “freeze” formula approved in the state budget limiting local governments’ spending would have allowed a spending increase of 5.01%.
While tax rates will vary by community, the owner of a Madison home valued at today’s average cost, $189,484, will pay $25.70 more in county property taxes.
“I used concrete, budget balancing alternatives that offer long term solutions, not just quick fixes. This will serve us well into the future,” said Falk.
Falk presented her budget in four major areas:
Preserving Our Priorities
“I listened to citizens in 14 hours of public hearings, read dozens of letters, postcards and emails and had many conversations with citizens. Most people called for preserving human services or public safety, usually referring to a particular program,” said Falk. “This budget funds our vital human service and public safety programs.”
Falk added $150,000 to the organizations providing daily care to children and adults with developmental disabilities. “More importantly, my budget continues to serve all existing clients and allows us to continue taking on new cases as those needs arise,” said Falk.
A new $46,900 allocation saves the Urban League’s “Fatherhood Program,” geared towards keeping fathers employed so they can pay to support their children. This program was previously funded with state W-2 dollars that were eliminated by the state.
Falk and Sheriff Gary Hamblin Monday announced an agreement on funding the Sheriff’s office. “By our innovations in working with the state, we limit the prisoners they house in our county jail and put deputies on our streets and highways,” said Falk.
Falk also targets new dollars to domestic violence, since it appears unlikely the District Attorney’s office will receive federal grants to fund the county’s domestic violence program. While Falk’s budget cuts about 40 GPR-funded positions, the budget funds with tax levy one position in the D.A’s office to provide direct support to victims of domestic abuse that would otherwise have been lost. It also continues to fund with county taxes a key partner, Domestic Abuses Intervention Services, with $153,200.
In the Courts budget, Falk restores most of the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATIP) program, calling it “one of our most effective jail diversion programs.” The Clerk of Courts had recommended cutting it. To fund the restoration, Falk eliminates several vacant positions and reduces Limited Term Employee spending.
In a move to keep law library services available to the public, Falk also adds a full-time librarian for the Law Library in the Clerk of Courts office, reallocated from the Library.
Public safety is further enhanced in the budget by Falk’s restoring all six of the 911 dispatchers that were proposed by the Public Safety Communications department for elimination to meet budget targets.
Mergers and Consolidations
Trimming the size of county government, Falk announced two major departmental consolidations in her budget.
One combines two existing departments, the Public Works Department, and the Department of Highway and Transportation. Both departments rely on the use of heavy equipment, skilled labor and engineering expertise. It puts engineering, landfills and recycling together with highways and transportation.
The Lake Management Program (cutting lake weeds and tending the locks) is transferred to the Parks Department, while maintaining lake levels is placed in Land Conservation.
Falk also proposes merging two other departments, the Parks Department, and the Planning and Development Department.
“This allows us to press forward with a comprehensive approach to land management,” said Falk. “At the same time, it trims top administrative positions and brings a focus to our many efforts directed toward our land, water, parks and planning.”
The top posts in the Parks Department and the Planning and Development Department were vacated due to retirements earlier this year, and are currently held by interim directors.
Savings from these internal consolidations add up to about $265,000.
Tuesday, Falk and Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz announced key steps taken toward unification of the city and county health departments.
Savings in Personnel Costs
Falk cut about 40 GPR-funded positions, with a savings of over $2 million. In addition, a moratorium on hiring is imposed for county government in 2004, with narrow public safety exceptions and an appeal process. The county executive continues her own salary freeze that she imposed on herself in January, 2002. By the end of 2003, it will save the county $13,872.
“Our biggest expense is personnel. Counties exist to deliver services, and it takes people to deliver most of those service,” said Falk. “We worked to reduce personnel related expenses in ways that save money, are fair to our employees, and that preserve our delivery of services.”
Efforts started several years ago to raise revenue continue to work, said Falk. The county is bringing two new methane-run generators on line at the county landfill to bring in $560,000 in sales of methane, and the county has identified six acres of surplus land at Badger Prairie Health Care Center that can be sold for about $310,000.
Falk’s budget now goes to the County Board for review by the standing committees and action by the full Board. Final action by the Board normally occurs shortly before Thanksgiving, with the County Executive’s approval and partial vetoes coming about one week later.
**See the above links: a variety of budget charts, including the table showing the effect of the budget on the owner/property taxpayer of an average Madison home and Falk’s detailed memorandum to the County Board and other elected officials.