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Walworth County budget passes under limits

--- Health insurance a major factor in budget

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Nov. 19, 2007, 2:44 p.m.)

An 11th hour budget amendment to cut the Walworth County health insurance budget by about $567,700 and seek a private health-care provider failed, leading to the county board passing a budget levy increase of 4.81 percent for 2008.

Had the amendment passed, the levy would have increased only slightly more than 4 percent. The proposal failed 18-7.

"Health insurance, to me, is astounding," said Supervisor Bob Arnold, who proposed the amendment. "It's 32 percent of the total levy, just for health insurance."

The county tabbed $18.6 million next year for employee health insurance. That is $2.7 million more than this year and $1 million more might still be needed, County Administrator David Bretl said.

If the seven employee unions and the county board can't agree to changes in the plan, and the current system continues, the county will have to add another $1 million to that account by making $1 million in cuts elsewhere, Finance Director Nicole Andersen said.

Soaring health-care costs are a driving factor in the county's $54.75 million tax levy, Bretl said.

Arnold suggested privatizing county health insurance. Corporations can negotiate for lower health-care costs more effectively than the county's self-insured plan, he said.

"Obviously, we have a system that is totally out of whack and needs a house cleaning," Arnold said.

Maybe, but not tonight, Arnold's peers said.

"You can't just cut this benefit off from our employees at the spur of the moment," Supervisor Jerry Grant said. "It has to be done at the bargaining table."

"I don't think an 11th hour reduction at this point is the answer," said Supervisor Margaret Downing, who suggested studying the proposal later.

The county is in the midst of union negotiations.

Taxing opinions

Despite the average taxpayer paying less due to increased valuation in the county, a levy increase of any sort is still a problem with some citizens.

"This county has to look for a new direction. The direction you're taking is going to make it unaffordable for people to stay in this county," said Spyro Condos of Lake Geneva.

The county has passed $9 million in levy increases the last three years, said Paula McGowan of Elkhorn.

"This is irresponsible. That is why taxpayers voted to downsize the county board," she said. "Today, you're considering passing an unreasonable budget again. You're still not listening to the taxpayers."

The levy is about $15,300 below the county's self-imposed cap.

Other budget action

--- The board kept $70,000 in the budget to support the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance. A proposal had called for reducing the subsidy to $40,000.

The proposal to keep the higher funding level passed 17-8.

--- A budget amendment to add $15,000 to the $100,000 appropriation for the Walworth County Visitors Bureau failed 16-9. The amount tabbed for the bureau will stay the same in 2008.

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The basics

Total county budget

Next year: $159.9 million

This year: $ 146.8 million

Percent increase: 8.96

Tax levy

Next year: $54.8 million

This year: $52.2 million

Percent increase: 4.81

Tax rate

County tax on a $200,000 home is $781.29.

Note: Percent changes calculated on whole numbers.

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