Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today introduced a proposed $381.6 million budget for 2002 that strengthens public services, limits tax increases and further builds up the county's financial reserves.
"This is a budget that every family can relate to," said Falk. "It better protects our children and our most vulnerable citizens. It controls spending and earns some extra income. It invests in vital long-term goals like protecting our natural resources. And it puts money away for a rainy day."
Despite stagnating state and federal funds coming into the county, Falk met her self- imposed goal of keeping the tax levy increase to 4.55%, no higher than the combined rate of population growth and inflation. This translates to a levy increase of $3.9 million. Due to rising property values, the property tax rate will fall 19 cents from $3.35 to $3.16 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation.
Falk said she had to make difficult budget decisions, since the county's 31 departments had made requests that would have required a property tax increase of $16.1 million, or 18.7% increase in the tax levy, rather than the 4.55% increase she approved.
"Even with this tight budget we increased our reserves by almost $500,000, bringing our rainy day fund to $7.76 million. We're at the very top in fiscal soundness, according to our AAA bond rating, and I intend to keep us there," said Falk.
Falk outlined the efficiencies the new budget makes in county government:
Maintains the base budget reductions of ½ % for small agencies and 1% for large agencies which resulted in $920,000 in savings in 2001
Imposes a 10-week delay in all county hiring for 2002, except for critical public health and safety positions, with projected savings of $1.6 million
Offsets county spending by using $1.4 million of the one-time funds received from the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) credit made available in settlement of the lawsuit over retirement contributions
Achieves $700,000 in administrative savings in the Department of Human Services
Takes a one-year 60% reduction in conference and training budgets for county workers, trimming costs by $368,000
Reduces overtime in the Public Safety Communications (911) department by adding another position to take emergency calls
Eliminates a clerical position in the County Executive's office
Reduces significant overtime costs at Badger Prairie Health Care Center by using $412,500 in non-levy money to add six Certified Nursing Assistants and two Registered Nurses. (Badger Prairie also benefits from an increase of $3 million in intergovernmental transfer funds that offset costs of running a 24-hour, seven day a week nursing facility.)
Two additional measures to raise revenue are also part of the budget. The budget establishes a Methane Energy Fund to accept income from selling electricity generated from methane produced through decomposition of materials at the county landfill. Previously this money had gone into the Solid Waste Fund. There is $200,000 in revenue budgeted for 2002, and a transfer of $685,000 from prior electricity sales.
Falk also proposes selling 20 acres of county land in the Town of Cottage Grove for an estimated $120,000, while retaining the adjacent 50 acres that has valuable clay needed for use at the county landfill.
Key spending areas are:
Public Safety. Falk's budget continues to ramp up spending on public safety. The 2001 Sheriff's Office budget added 32 new positions and nine new pre-hires. As part of the agreement to add these positions, the Sheriff's operating capital purchases were limited to $678,000. This budget honors that agreement and adds video monitoring equipment and a total of $28,000 to lease a new patrol boat and a new snowmobile for Recreation Patrol.
In addition, the 2002 budget:
Adds a clerical position in the Sheriff's Department
Adds a 911 operator, and $20,000 for the medical supervision needed for Priority Dispatch
Funds an additional communications tower in the DeForest area, important for improving communication with police patrols in area communities, and
Reallocates $13,000 in tax levy for Emergency Management to create a maintenance system for the county's recently refurbished siren system
Parks and Environment. "This budget continues our long term commitment and vision to protect our most treasured places—our parks, trails, lakes and streams," said Falk. It includes:
$3 million for the New Conservation Fund for land purchases, streambank protection and conservation easements
$27,600 to fund half of a Park Superintendent for the new Centennial Park, consistent with an agreement between the County and the State Department of Natural Resources for operation of the park
$40,100 to staff the Lussier Family Heritage Center at Centennial Park to make it open to the public
$35,000 to initiate a matching fund for park expenses such as playground equipment and $2,500 to fund a matching grant program for the Accessibility Grant Program where local communities and nonprofit agencies can apply for grants to provide transportation for people with disabilities to County parks.
Adds $45,000 for mowers and other equipment to improve maintenance of county parks and $45,000 to assist in managing newly acquired properties, and
Public Works receives funding for new buoys and a weed-cutting barge to make the lakes safer and more enjoyable.
"Our newly passed Stormwater Management Ordinance is launched in this budget, christened with revenue from grants and fees and $18,000 in tax levy," said Falk. "Our beautiful lakes and streams receive further protection as we phase in implementation with an initial emphasis on education." Two positions, a newly-created stormwater engineer and a reallocated public education specialist, will lead the effort.
The County Executive's budget also funds purchase of a new Bookmobile for the Public Library System, and adds $300,000 to the Highway Department budget for highway improvements.
Falk had earlier announced the initiatives contained in her $196.7 million Department of Human Services budget, which accounts for half of county operations spending.
"We'll continue to face a number of challenges as the economy slows, county investments produce lower returns, and employee health insurance costs rise," said Falk. "We're looking at a 15% rise in health insurance costs next year."
Along with the budget, Falk released a long term forecast of county finances prepared by the Department of Administration. It emphasizes that with stagnating state and federal revenues, growing populations and rising costs, the county will need to continue important steps toward managing costs, identifying revenues and increasing efficiencies.
To meet future funding challenges, Falk said she will look at finding other efficiencies, and other ways to raise money for the county. Two ideas being considered are a possible sale of the county's downtown parking ramp, and "means testing," where fair and appropriate, for some services provided by the Department of Human Services.
"I look forward to working with the County Board as they review the budget that will guide county spending in the coming year," said Falk.