County tax levy dips from original proposal

Increase still tabbed as too much

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Nov. 16, 2006, 10:38 a.m.)

After more than four hours of discussions, and going line-by-line over most of 48 proposed amendments, the Walworth County Board Monday approved a budget that calls for a 6.18 percent tax levy increase.

"We took a million-six ($1.6 million) out of the budget and the areas or departments or groups that were contributing most heavily were the areas where the biggest cuts came," said Supervisor Nancy Russell, finance committee chair.

The county's special education programming cut about $800,000, largely because of increased federal aids and new figures that allow a reduction of $200,336 in teacher salaries that are scheduled to be transferred to local school districts.

Lakeland Health Care Center will eliminate 12 positions, create two new jobs and refill vacancies with displaced employees to come up with about a $600,000 budget cut.

Still, it's not enough, said Supervisor Rick Stacey.

Stacey, board chair Ann Lohrmann and Supervisor Richard Kunhnke voted for every budget amendment that was on track to reduce the levy to the county's self-imposed levy cap of 4.68 percent.

"Picking and choosing is very unfair," Stacey said. "There were maybe four of us that stuck together."

Stacey said a majority of the board rubber-stamped many items on the chopping block, siding with department head recommendations rather than taxpayer interests.

Before the meeting, six elected county department heads signed a letter to supervisors reminding them of the mandated services that are provided for marginal annual budget increases.

Every budget amendment that called for a staff cut outside the health care center failed, keeping 14 jobs that might have been eliminated or reduced in hours. The county will also keep contracted security guards assigned to monitor visitors to the judicial center.

Despite lowering the levy from a proposed 9.55 percent increase more than 3 percent, the board was criticized again from members of the public.

Bret Strong, chairman for the Walworth County Citizens for Responsible Government chapter, said a tidal wave of change will soon roll through the county.

"You had the opportunity to make right here tonight. You lost it," Strong said.

The group has called for the reduction of the county board from 25 to 11 members. Strong announced Monday that enough support was gained to have the proposal go to taxpayers in an April referendum.

"We have signatures of 2,200 people. That's a small army," Strong said. "I'm going to use every ounce of their potential."

Other budget points
- Reduced Economic Development Alliance contribution $10,000
- Reduced Walworth County Tourism Bureau $15,000
- Appropriated $6,000 for Walworth County's church-run homeless shelters
- Eliminated all but $1,000 of county board travel budget
- Increased conditional use and rezone fees $100 to $475
- Create $1,000 application fee for subdivision proposals
- Save $8,000 in postage by not mailing out property tax receipts

Health Care Center Jobs Eliminated/Reduced
- Nurse manager, clerk, assistant director of nursing, quality operations manager, part-time LPN unit supervisor, five CNAs, recreational therapist and reduce two RN unit supervisors to part-time.

Health Care Center Jobs Created
- Quality improvement/nurse manager, recreational therapy leader

Other county jobs saved
Human resources manager, three clerk of courts student workers, clerk's officer clerk remains full-time, district attorney clerk, finance clerk, computer analyst/programmer, zoning department administration support supervisor, public works maintenance engineer, assistant jail administrator, jail food and laundry supervisor, judicial center security deputy, sheriff's department student worker, contracted security guards at judicial center.


Total budget:
2006 $138.2 million
2007 $146.8 million
Percent increase: 6.22

Total tax levy:

2006 $49.2 million
2007 $52.2 million
Percent increase: 6.18

Average total mill rate:
This year: $4.40
Next year: $4.10
Percent decrease: 6.68

Note: Percents based on whole numbers



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