JEFFERSON — A complex, but seemingly noncontroversial, proposed 2020 Jefferson County budget is moving forward methodically, with its next stop a public hearing on Oct. 22.
Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier made his annual budget presentation to the county’s board of supervisors Tuesday evening.
In his address, Wehmeier said the county is engaging in what is known in more forward-thinking local governments as “priority-based budgeting.” This is related to how the county can fund elements contained in its strategic plan — things such as operational needs, how to accomplish goals, determining successes and data analysis.
Wehmeier also talked about the capital budget, personnel needs, fund balance use and he looked to the future in terms of services, information technology, structure and collaborations.
“We have to be asking, ‘How do we prepare for the next 10-20 years of serving the county?’” he said.
In late September, the Jefferson County Finance Committee 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 of equalized valuation — a decrease of about 18 cents per $1,000 from 2019.
According to Wehmeier, 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 overall levy is up from $27.6 million in 2019. The 2018 countywide tax levy was set at $27,357,982, which brought with it a tax rate of $4.16 per $1,000 of equalized valuation.
The tax rates for library and health services are expected to decrease by about 1 cent each.
Wehmeier said 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, nor the use of the fund balance/cash reserve, which comes to $714,174.
“This is per the fund balance policy,” Wehmeier said.
Estimated expenditures are $85,139,626, with the general fund accounting for $36,864,973; Health Department, $1,566,672; Human Services, $26,674,656 and Highway Department at $11,254,363.
Wehmeier said three large departments seeing cost increases are Human Services, Emergency Management and the Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s increases are tied primarily to capital, overtime and operation increases, according to Wehemeier.
“Human Services needs to increase positions being paid for through non-levy dollars and capital projects,” he said. “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.
Human services’ total wages and health insurance costs in 2019 have been $44,103,154 and they are estimated to increase to approximately $46,067,300 in 2020. This includes all of the new positions recommended, the maintenance of the existing health insurance program with ongoing monitoring, and the maintaining of a step-progression and market rate increase of 1.5 percent.
Human Services is one of the county’s largest cost areas. It has demands in the areas of Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), community service programs, clinics, mental health and alcohol and other drug treatment, child protective and youth services, and economic support.
Highway maintenance is a big cost to the county. In 2020, the county hopes to repair County Highway E from Palmyra to Sullivan, a resurfacing project of 8.2 miles at a cost of $2.55 million. Also slated for work will be County Highway J from County Highway C to U.S. Highway 12, a rehabilitation project of $700,000; and Highway J near State Highway 106 being rehabilitated to the tune of $1.6 million. These projects will total more than $3.7 million.
In terms of highways, Wehmeier looked to 2022, noting the county has big plans to tackle one of its most heavily traveled roadways — County Highway N from Jefferson and Fort Atkinson to Whitewater. That project could cost so much the county is looking into obtaining grants to complete the task.
Wehmeier said the 2020 budget process began in September 2018, through the new process of 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,” he 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, such as major renovations to the county courthouse and other facilities near the Collins Road campus in Jefferson. Also included will be other deferred building maintenance, road projects, a countywide communication project, broadband expansions, flood-mitigation property purchases/demolitions 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.”
Wehemeier said the county’s financial outlook also offers many challenges in the areas of infrastructure needs, information technology, alcohol and drug abuse prevention and mitigation, out-of-state placements, hospitalizations, personnel funding, sustainable revenue, and state budget and legislation. The administrator said opportunities for the county include its high governmental rating, good-looking balance sheet, solid fund balance, limited debt, alternative revenue, collaboration and partnerships, location and protective planning.
“Our opportunities outweigh the challenges,” he said. “We have a good location between Madison and Milwaukee. We have proactive planning. But we need to deal proactively with drugs and alcohol.”
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 include examination by the county’s board of supervisors and the public hearing in October. The document is traditionally approved in November.
Also Tuesday, the board said goodbye to 154 years of combined experience and service to county government, as it acknowledged the retirements of six employees.
Supervisors honored Diane Nelson, public health program manager, who retired after nine years; Jerry Haferman, captain at the sheriff’s office, with more than 27 years; Jeffrey Galbraith, sergeant with the sheriff’s office, with 21 years; Andy Erdman, director of the Land Information Office, 43 years; Paul Wallace, captain at the sheriff’s office, 34 years; and Karl Hein, building maintenance worker at the Human Services Department, 20 years.