Walworth County seeks 10 percent tax increase

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Sept. 25, 2006, 11:38 a.m.)

A smorgasbord of unique services - including funding for special education - is behind a proposed 10 percent increase in Walworth County taxing for next year, according to the county administrator.

"As with everything else in life, however, there is no free lunch," County Administrator David Bretl wrote in the administrator's preliminary budget overview.

Bretl was referring to the "diverse menu" of services Walworth County offers that many other counties don't-funding for special education, a zoning department and a nursing home.

"It costs money to support these programs," Bretl wrote.

The proposed 2007 Walworth County budget calls for a 10 percent levy increase.

Bretl said the nursing home and the special school programs are labor-intensive. Labor expenses, especially employee health insurance, are among the fastest-growing areas of the budget.

Because the equalized value of property in the county rose 14 percent to $1.5 billion, Walworth County's mill rate will drop slightly despite the tax levy increase of nearly 10 percent.

Finance Director Nicole Andersen warned, however, that properties reassessed this year likely will see an overall increase in their property tax bill next year.

If the county board approves the budget as proposed, taxpayers will pay $4.24 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2007 for the county's portion of their bills. Last year, they paid $4.39 per $1,000.

Funding a new school for children with disabilities has been hotly debated by the county board this year. In April, the board approved $22 million for the school.

Supervisor Rick Stacey had asked for a taxpayer referendum before approving borrowing. It failed 15-9 in April.

He said building the new school would put a crunch on other county departments.

"I don't think there's much left to be cut," Stacey said.

Borrowing for that project will limit the county's ability to borrow for other capital expenditures, especially in 2008.

The county in 2007 will borrow $9.5 million for the school and $1.4 million for two road projects.

In 2008, $9.9 million will be used for the school and $200,000 for road construction engineering. Any 2008 road construction will be paid with money borrowed in 2007, said public works accountant Sandy Kulik.

The largest department increase in the proposed 2007 budget is the Children with Disabilities Education Board, which funds special education at Lakeland School and in the county's 15 school districts.

That budget is expected to jump 35.5 percent - from $6.34 million in 2006 to $8.6 million in 2007. However, the county will fully fund retiree health care benefits in this budget for $500,000, Andersen said.

The Children with Disabilities Education Board budget is expected to drop over the next nine years as the county transfers in-school special education services to the local school districts.

The Children with Disabilities Education Board budget will be a separate line item on tax bills next year. County residents in the Burlington School District no longer will pay taxes for Walworth County's special education services because Burlington provides similar services.

Bretl said Walworth County should continue to grow its tax base to bring in additional revenues.

"I believe that improving our tax base through quality economic development and the promotion of tourism are vital to the county's future well being," Bretl wrote.

The county earmarked $100,000 for the Economic Development Alliance, a public-private partnership, and $15,000 for the Walworth County Visitors Bureau.

The sheriff's department will eliminate its Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which for 15 years has educated middle school children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and gangs. The move will add one deputy to the patrol division. A recent staffing study recommended the sheriff's department add nine deputies and one patrol sergeant.

A dispatcher will be added in July. The study recommended the addition of two dispatchers.




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