Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today unveiled her 10th consecutive proposed budget, capping a decade of consistent fiscal discipline dedicated to her top priorities of public safety, human services and stewardship of water and land.
“The painstaking process of developing the county’s annual budget is the most important part of my job. The top duty is to determine how we allocate our taxpayers’ dollars – in the most efficient and most effective way, no matter how tight the current fiscal times,” Falk said during Thursday’s news conference to release Falk’s proposed 2007 county budget.
“While the budget details and scenarios have changed from year to year, one fact has not. And that has been my dedication to the top priorities of public safety, human services and the environment. These are my top priorities because I have been told year in and year out that they are the top concerns of the citizens of Dane County.”
The $450 million executive operating and capital budget includes a property tax increase lower than Falk’s self-imposed levy limit determined by the county’s population growth and inflation. The County property tax increase is proposed to be 4.85 percent in the executive budget, now pending before the Dane County Board of Supervisors for their action.
" I understand that property taxes come out of hard-working people's pockets. I do not, and never have taken this for granted," she said. "Each taxpayer dollar must be used in the most efficient way. That's the promise I've made to the Dane County residents for the last decade.
“I’ve used this levy limit equation since my first budget in 1997, well before the state enacted its hold on property tax increases,” Falk said. “Even with this protection of property taxpayers, I still was able to prioritize our county dollars and found nearly $11 million for additional personnel, vehicles and equipment for our Sheriff’s department.”
Falk earlier this week released her budget’s proposed public safety provisions. These include a crime/victim witness specialist for the District Attorney, $4.2 million in construction dollars for the new Huber/AODA facility that will add 300 new beds to the entire jail system, and a first-in-state Priority Dispatch system for fires.
Falk is proposing $157,000 ($45,000 from 911 operating budget and $112,000 in capital funds) be used for the training and technology upgrades for the Priority Dispatch program for fire emergencies.
Dane County will be the first in Wisconsin to use this program which assists dispatchers in securing key information for quick determination as to what equipment is needed and what can be left behind for other crisis calls. “This will be an incredibly important tool we can provide our local leaders who are charged with responding to that local call for help,” Falk said.
Among the Human Services provisions, Falk is proposing $350,000 to support vocational and housing options for persons with developmentally disabilities. Plus, Falk has restored funds targeted for cuts -- $71,000 for youth mental health crisis services, $110,000 for adult mental health services. She also added $532,000 for a one percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for human services.
“I also reprioritized county funds to invest more than $28 million for a new Badger Prairie Nursing Home for our most frail citizens and Job Center improvements to help people gain jobs,” Falk said of two key human services provisions. “And as promised, I have included $1.5 million to initiate the first actions under our new major program to protect our created in response to citizens repeatedly telling me they love their water. We all love our fantastic waters. Our lakes and streams are key to the quality of life we enjoy in Dane County.”
Falk stressed the 2007 budget was not an easy package to craft.
“We faced the usual rising costs and reductions in state and federal support. We also are negotiating three-year labor and health insurance contracts,” Falk said.
“Because of the retirement incentive option, we had 39 Dane County employees retire this summer. Of that total, I was able to reduce the county’s net employment by 15 positions, without any layoffs in the budget.”
Yet, Falk said, it was the teamwork of county managers and department heads and staffers who rallied together to keep the tax increase at a minimum, avoid layoffs and meet the goals of safety, service and stewardship.
Citing her long-held goal to limit the impact on property taxpayers, Falk’s budget imposes a lower levy increase than the self-imposed limit equation she has used for a decade – years before the state enacted its levy limit law last year. That law would have allowed an increase of 7.93 percent. “That’s too high,” Falk said.
Under the Falk formula, the levy limit increase would have been held to 5.23 percent. Instead, Falk dug deeper and reprioritized to propose a 4.85 percent increase. This will generate $110,140,687 in levy in 2007. Also, the property tax rate will drop by 11 cents from $2.55 in 2006 to $2.44 in 2007.
“This rate is a fair balance between the need to limit taxes and the need to provide services,” she said. “To help me determine the real effect of my budgets, I always have used the owner of a Madison home of average value.”
This year, the average Madison home’s value is $239,449 and the county property tax increase on that home under Falk’s proposed budget would be $15.79.”
Falk also maintains a budget reserve of $9,851,359 to keep the County’s valuable AAA bond rating. This reserve is an increase of $325,420 from 2006.
Fees have been raised about $308,000, and about $1.8 million will be gained through the sale of County property.
The 2007 operating budget proposed to the County Board by Falk totals $419,239,607, an increase of 3.7 percent from 2006’s operating budget of $404,247,576. The overall proposed executive budget, which includes operating and capital plans, totals $447,979,585 -- an increase of 4.63 percent from 2006.
Other challenges this year include Dane County’s population growth, which remains high at 1.34 percent with more than 6,000 new residents anticipated next year. Inflation, a good indication of increased costs, also is at a high rate of 3.89 percent.
Falk said fiscal challenges also surfaced in Human Services, a department directed to make cuts. However, after listening to hours of public testimony, Falk again reprioritized to continue support of the current excellent system that will be tapped for more as the county’s population grows.
Human Services budget highlights, in addition to the previously mentioned increased mental health programming and Badger Prairie and Job Center projects, include:
-- $200,000 to maintain the Youth Restitution Program
-- $1 million to serve new brain injury victims, high-need consumers including those with developmental disabilities leaving the public education system.
-- $97,000 in HOME funds to initiate a home ownership options for persons with disabilities.
-- Full funding for the Veterans Services Office.
As pledged earlier this year, Falk has proposed $1.5 million in capital budget dollars to create the Land and Water Legacy Fund. “The fund is our next big step to protecting our lakes and waters – and follows in the now nine-year tradition of the new Conservation Fund,” Falk said of the fund used to protect thousands of acres of lakes. “We know what we do with our lands directly affects our water.”
The $1.5 million will cover land protection, key to water quality improvement, as well as restorations of stream banks and wetlands and storm sewer improvements. The Fund is separate from the new Conservation Fund and would consider water quality enhancement projects that may not be part of the Parks and Open Space Plan.
“Restoring drained wetlands and degraded streams and rivers will improve water quality overall,” Falk said. “These measures also improve fish and wildlife habitat, and they are permanent improvements in our local environment.”
Falk added: “For the first time, the county itself will fund cost-sharing for farmers facing manure-related water quality violations.”
Also in the executive budget are funds for a new weed-cutting barge to improve the use of the lakes in the summer.
Falk’s budget also includes an additional inspector to the erosion control/storm water team and transferring the responsibility to the Land and Water Resources Department.
And to answer citizen calls for more parks and expanded natural resource protection, Falk is proposing to maintain the old Conservation Fund at its consistent annual level of $646,000 and the New Conservation Fund at $5 million.
The budget includes funds for the County Highway M project to complete the road improvements as pledged for the North Mendota area, as well as work on County highways S and ID, and the new parking ramp at the Dane County Regional Airport.
The budget now goes to the County Board for action. First, County Board committees review the budget during October before shipping the package to the full board for action in early to mid-November. The budget then returns to Falk’s desk for approval, veto or partial veto. Final action is expected before December.