Prioritizes public safety, human services, environment
Crediting recommended efficiencies to strengthen the county’s criminal justice system, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today unveiled her 11th consecutive proposed budget that meets her goals of property tax control with improvements in public safety and human services, and continued commitment to conservation.
“My 2008 budget proposes almost no property tax increase and improved services to all the programs people most care about,” Falk said. “While this budget meets my four goals, it also has been the most rewarding and most frustrating of the 11 annual spending plans I’ve written.
“It’s been frustrating to complete a county budget that is dramatically affected by the state budget, which remains in limbo as it has since July,” she said. “But, in contrast, the great rewards have been implementing cost-saving recommendations detailed in the recent audit of our criminal justice system. These efficiencies have not only prevented cuts to Human Services, but allowed additions to programs for the most vulnerable.”
The $460 million Executive operating and capital budget is an increase of 2.38 percent – or $10,678,153 from the 2007 budget. It includes a property tax increase of 3.30 percent set by Falk’s self-imposed levy limit determined by the county’s population growth and inflation. The property tax rate will drop by 6 cents from $2.44 per $1,000 in 2007 to $2.38 in 2008.
Citing her decade-long record of holding the line on property taxpayers, Falk’s budget continues the use of a levy limit formula she created years before the state enacted its levy limit law last year.
This year, the average Madison home’s value is $246,062 and the county property tax increase on that home under Falk’s proposed budget would be $1.37.
"The budget is the most important responsibility I have. And in a year marked by high gas prices and continued population growth in the county, I was even more committed to following my self-imposed limit of inflation plus population growth,” Falk said of the formula she has used since 1997. “As I say every year, 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.”
Falk’s 2008 budget begins to implement the suggestions detailed in criminal justice audit completed by Alan Kalmanoff of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILLP) in California. The audit stressed modernizing some of the county’s policies to promote more public safety and cost efficiencies.
Thanks to hard work by Falk and Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney, the cost-saving efficiencies encourage savings that her budget puts into public safety and human services.
Savings realized by a reduction in the number of inmates shipped to other counties is good news for our most vulnerable. “First of all, the savings mean human services will not see $700,000 in cuts,” Falk said. “And, I am very pleased to say I also dedicated an additional $750,000 for even more services for our most vulnerable.”
Dollars also have been restored for employment services for those with mental illnesses and physical disabilities, for children who have been sexually abused, for parents of teens struggling with alcohol and other drug abuse problems, and for case management services for senior citizens.
“Perhaps the most vital of these is the restoration of the $100,000 for the homeless voucher program,” Falk said. Other restorations include staffers for Joining Forces for Families, Badger Prairie and other programs.
“I also am proposing a $500,000 expansion of the Early Childhood Initiative, piloted successfully in the Allied Drive neighborhood of Madison,“ Falk said of the program to help struggling young families climb the economic ladder.
“However, I also must note since the Legislature has yet to complete the state budget, I was forced to make an educated guess about many programs. For example, I had to guess about the increase for Youth Aids – meaning the dollars we receive from the state for juvenile programs,” Falk said. “This is also the case for Juvenile Correction Institutional rates, charged by the state to counties for youth assigned in state facilities.”
Public Safety, Conservation
Falk earlier this week released her budget’s proposed public safety provisions and conservation package. These include increasing the use of electronic monitoring for eligible inmates, doubling the size of the county’s traffic safety team, adding 12.5 employees to the Dane County Sheriff’s staff and earmarking $100,000 for youth gang prevention. The budget also expands the popular all-hazard alert radio program countywide.
A month after rains pushed the Yahara Chain of Lakes over their banks, Falk doubled the dollars in the 2008 budget for wetland and floodplain projects.
Her budget also increases the Land and Water Legacy Fund bonding to $2.5 million for 2008. Two million of these dollars will go for wetland acquisition. “Every dollar spent on wetland protection means less flooding in places where the water shouldn’t be,” Falk said. “I’ve also put $5 million in the Conservation Fund to continue significant contributions to our popular park system.”
To achieve and promote energy conservation, the budget contains major window and lighting replacement for the City-County Building, Highway offices and the Zoo. The Zoo also will receive major roof and heating improvements for energy conservation.
Salt, Records, Passports and More
“Many county managers worked hard to achieve efficiencies that make this budget possible,” Falk said.
The Highway Department will increase the use of the winter salt brining system to keep highways safe while protecting water quality and saving money. The Register of Deeds office will modernize record-keeping and transmission for faster customer service at a lower cost. And the County Clerk of Courts will provide a one-stop service for passport applications.
Efforts to help government and citizens purchase more locally produced food will benefit with the addition of a half-time position at the University of Wisconsin-Extension.
“We also maintain a robust schedule of highway improvements and bridge repair with projects scheduled for Monona, Stoughton, Cambridge, Rockdale, McFarland and Marshall,” Falk said. “We will gain about $1 million in 2008 budget relief through the sale of the highway garage in Sun Prairie.”
Work also will begin on replacing the climbing equipment in the Primate House of the Henry Vilas Zoo to keep the animals safe.
“Finally, it is worth noting 2008 will be the first year of the fully merged City-County Public Health Department,” Falk said.
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.
Falk’s entire 2008 proposed county budget will be available online later today at: http://www.co.dane.wi.us/