What's included, what's not in 2013 Walworth County budget
ELKHORN Walworth County isn’t going to fall off any fiscal cliff, thanks to prudent and frugal decisions by County Administrator Dave Bretl and the Walworth County Board.
(Read all of this week's stories from Walworth County Sunday HERE. )
However, the still sluggish economy continues to burden taxpayers, especially homeowners, and in turn affects county revenue flows. Add to that the tremendous increase in demand for services, and the picture remains less than rosy.
Toss in uncertain factors at the state (Act 10) and national (Affordable Care Act) levels, and challenges remain many for local and county government officials.
That’s the environment that Bretl and staff members find themselves in while dealing with the 2013 budget, which will no doubt see a few amendments before and after the 6 p.m. Oct. 30 public hearing. The final document is expected to take effect Nov. 13.
The budget includes five themes:
-- Freezing of the tax levy
-- Conservative budget practices and major decrease in debt
-- Philosophy changes in employee compensation and benefits and a new wellness center proposal
-- Public safety and criminal justice issues
-- New community initiatives
Expenses to run the county in 2013 total about $148 million, which includes a net tax levy of $60.8 million. This represents a levy freeze for a second straight year, and Bretl said it simply is the right thing to do.
Still, the average mill rate is $4.56 per $1,000 of equalized value, which is up from $4.26 in 2012, or an increase of 7 percent.
“With unemployment still sitting at 7.5 percent and a third consecutive year of decreasing equalized values, a lot of people are challenged to pay their bills and taxes,” Bretl said. “And the demand for services and assistance, especially in health and human services, has gone way up. And then other things and stressors follow that.
“So, we’ve seen our funding sources decline, including the sales tax revenue, which was down about $1 million to $7 million,” he added. “We’re always watching the bottom line, but the question becomes whether you raise taxes or cut spending. We’re holding a line on taxes, and that’s what has shaped the county’s approach this year.”
Another big positive has been the county’s ability in recent years to pay off major chunks of its debt through conservative financial practices.
“From 2003 to about 2008 or ’09, our debt and debt service levels were ramped up … we were taking on about $1 million more each year because of adding county departments or major building replacements,” Bretl said of such items as the courthouse, nursing home and Lakeland School. “But since then we’ve started to come down the other side of that slope. We’ve tried to redeem bonds aggressively and prepaid some debt. And we’re way ahead with our road program, so that will be back on the tax levy. Borrowing frees up dollars for other things, and it’s difficult to move off of borrowed money. It’s better to levy and pay in current dollars. We’ve found ways to handle these things. And we don’t project any borrowing through 2018.”
Related to that is how the county has addressed compensation and benefits.