JEFFERSON — The Jefferson County Finance Committee on Friday concluded its annual budget hearing process with department heads, generating a tentative 2020 document with a recommended tax rate of $3.80 per $1,000 equalized valuation — a decrease of about 18 cents from 2019.

Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said the proposed countywide tax levy will be $28,045,222, with library and health services adding $1,190,912 and $857,526, respectively, for a total levy of $30,093,660.

The tax rates for library and health services are expected to decrease by about one cent each.

Wehmeier said that overall, county expenses should total $85,124,304, including ending reserves.

Revenues are expected to total $76,549,461, but this does not include projected bond proceeds of $6 million or beginning reserves of $1,644,961. It also does not include use of the fund balance, which comes to $714,174.

“This is per the fund balance policy,” Wehmeier said Friday afternoon.

Wehmeier said the three main departments seeing cost increases are the county Human Services, Emergency Management and the Sheriff’s departments.

“The sheriff’s increases are tied primarily to capital, overtime and operation increases,” he said. “Human Services is needed to increase positions being paid for through non-levy dollars and capital projects. Finally, Emergency Management (is up) due to the acquisition of flood mitigation properties funded through grants. If you include capital (bonding), the biggest ones are the Sheriff’s Department at $2 million and Human Services at $3.6 million.

Wehmeier said the budget process began in September 2018 through a new process called priority based budgeting.

“This process involved a system that looked at the more than 800 programs provided by the county and how they align with the strategic vision of the county,” the administrator said. “Beyond alignment with the strategic visions, this process also incorporated data related to mandates and reliance on the county for the said program. This information and data was the basis for us as we looked into the process for developing the fiscal year 2020 budget and will be used for future years.”

Wehmeier said the county has “a solid team” in terms of budget creation and it has worked hard to build a cohesive approach to the budget development.

“This includes seeking input from the public, board members and other stakeholders,” he said. “Departments look at data to help how resources may assist in solving problems and providing needed services. This budget was a little tougher to align than fiscal year 2019. But, all in all, it came together in a positive way.”

Looking ahead, Wehmeier said there are several projects in the 2020 budget that focus on bigger capital projects, to include deferred building maintenance, road projects, a countywide communication project, broadband, flood mitigation property and parks.

“These are longer-term decisions that need to be reviewed, not only to make sure they meet the needs of the county today, but also in the future,” Wehmeier said. “This same focus can be see in the operational needs as we look to emerging trends, greater demands for service in certain program areas and ensuring proper fiduciary oversight of funds that we are responsible for. The long-range strategic thought process helps ensure that decisions are thought through, while trying to develop the ability for flexibility of the future.”

Wehmeier said the public should rest assured services will not be compromised next year.

“This budget maintains and preserves the services provided to the county. There may be cases that service delivery may be adjusted,” he said. “Several areas will see enhancements to programs without impact to the local levy, such as human services. This also maintains a competitive compensation packages for our employees.”

The next stops for the budget includes examination by the county’s full board of supervisors and a public hearing in October. The document traditionally is approved in November.

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