By Mike Heine/The Week
(Published Nov. 13, 2006, 10:38 a.m.)
Two weeks after the Walworth County Board took an earful from constituents angered by a proposed 9.55 percent tax levy hike, supervisors put forward 48 amendments that could lower the increase to less than 5 percent, if everything passes.
Of those amendments, which were finalized Friday, only one proposes putting money back into the budget - a $6,000 request for the county's homeless shelters.
The amendments eliminate about 26 positions, more than a dozen of which are currently staffed, County Administrator David Bretl said.
Most county departments--with the exception of special education, health and human services and the two-person veterans affairs office--are being asked to take staff cuts, Bretl said.
Eight positions could be cut from the health-care center, which was able to recommend about $600,000 in budget cuts. The sheriff's department, which a staffing study says needs 22 more positions, is being asked to cut five positions.
"That's saying they spent $19,000 (for the study) for nothing and they don't believe the study," Sheriff David Graves said. "I know I'm not going to get all 22 people, but I don't expect to be cut. Attention should be paid by the board to that study."
Also among the proposed cuts is the elimination of the contracted security guards that monitor the entrance of the $15 million judicial center, which opened in 2005 with the idea it would have "airport-like" security.
"You build a building with that kind of stuff in mind and two years later you say you don't need it anymore?" Graves said. There also has been no word yet on what would happen to the $36,000 X-ray machine purchased to keep contraband out of the courts.
"We don't have too many people. We don't have enough according to the study. It just seems out of synch," Graves said.
Phyllis Williams, director of Lakeland Health Care Center, said a majority of the proposed cuts from her department are eliminated through attrition although several positions, if approved, would include working employees.
Other departments could have one or two positions cut, according to the amendments.
Department heads unite
"Walworth County citizens elect constitutional officers to provide mandated services at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. We have delivered on this request each year by working with the county board," reads the letter, which was signed by Graves, District Attorney Phil Koss, Clerk of Courts Shelia Rieff, Coroner John Griebel, Register of Deeds Connie Woolever and Treasurer Kathy DuBois.
"I concur insomuch as I don't feel their budgets are loaded with waste, fraud and abuse," Bretl said. "They have done a good job of managing their departments with resources that are provided so I agree with all of that.
"I guess the dilemma then is, 'What's the purvey of the policy makers?' If we provide other non-mandated services, then do you raise taxes to get it all in, or do you say we value these and cut all these other things?"
A major driving force in the preliminary budget was a 35 percent increase in the special education budget.
Special Education Director Tracy Moate was able to reduce the budget by about $800,000 through several late moves, Bretl said.
The county learned it could reduce the amount spent on transferring some special education programming to the districts by $200,000 and federal revenues increased $520,000.
The reductions proposed in special education and for the nursing home alone would push the levy increase to just below 7 percent, Bretl said.
If the board approves all the amendments, it would reach the county's original self-imposed levy cap of 4.68 percent.
In May, the board voted 17-7 to surpass its self-imposed limits and allow up to a 10 percent increase.
County Board Chairwoman Ann Lohrmann said the public budget hearing was likely an eye-opener for some supervisors.
"I hope some of them all of a sudden wake up and realize this is serious business and realize the county board is not a social club," she said. "We have a responsibility to hold down the levy while providing good services."
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