Budget hearings are underway - Part 1 of 3

Budget hearings are underway

By Steve Sharp: steves@wdtimes.com

JEFFERSON -- In keeping with its philosophy of being prepared for just about anything these days -- when almost anything can happen in government -- the Jefferson County Finance Committee and Administrator Ben Wehmeier took the plunge Monday into what will, come November, be the finalized 2019 county budget.

Budget hearings with the finance committee run through the end of this week, next on Wednesday and again Friday.

The finance committee traditionally meets with department heads this week in September with budget document being ratified by the county board in November after considerable study and sometimes revisions by the county board of supervisors.

Along with respective department heads, Wehmeier presented his recommended overall departmental budgets for 2019 to the finance committee. Among these were financial documents for Donna Haugom of Emergency Management and Medical Examiner Nichol Tesch. Both women left their brief meetings with the finance committee and Wehmeier seeming pleased, with their budgets unchanged.
Before meeting with the department heads, Wehmeier spent an hour with the finance committee briefing its members about what lies ahead in 2019 -- and further into the future.

"We're looking ahead not only to 2019," Wehmeier said, "but to 2020 and beyond."
The Jefferson County Finance Committee members are George Jaeckel, Conor Nelan, Russel Kutz, Amy Rinard and Chairman Dick Jones.

Wehmeier said there has been at least one joint meeting of committee chairmen regarding the budget to ensure these key county players remain apprised of the county's budgetary needs.

"One small change in a budget like this can make you go above (the state's levy limit)," Wehmeier warned as he talked of the need to keep everyone conceivable in the loop regarding the budget for 2019.

Jones said he and his committee appreciate Wehmeier's long-term approach to matters of Jefferson County finance.

In his overview of the budget, Wehmeier said departments were directed to review expenditure thresholds and abide by specific levy limits that have been set. He noted there was a 2.5 percent market adjustment and classification study included in his projections, along with an insurance program as approved by the county board. Wehmeier added the smaller departments in the county are finding meeting their target goals more challenging these days.

"Contracts, health insurance and wage projections versus revenue creates several challenges," Wehmeier said.

Overall estimated expenditures for the county in 2019 are $78,788,599. Estimated revenues are $44,276,588. The total tax levy is projected to be $29,650,834.
In the late 2017, the 2018 countywide tax levy was set at $27,357,982, which brought with it a tax rate of $3.9882 per $1,000 of equalized valuation for general operations and $0.1725 for debt service fund, for a total of $4.16 per $1,000 of equalized valuation. In 2017, the general operations tax rate was $4.12 for a decrease of $0.1287 per $1,000 for the 2018 general operations.
Although the levy is projected as being higher in 2018, the tax rate, according to Wehmeier, is expected to be lowered by about 4 percent.

Wehmeier discussed net new construction in the region, which influences taxes. He said Ixonia and Lake Mills continue to be strong construction zones in the Watertown region of the county.

Wehmeier said revenues continue to maintain positive trends and projections in Jefferson County, the sales tax revenues are up and new construction adds 1.1 percent, or $294,000, to capital. State shared revenue is being maintained and the utility tax is stable. The county is also reviewing its capacity to take on new Department of Corrections prisoners in its jail.

The Jefferson County Fund Balance was audited as of Dec. 31, 2017, and showed $30,142,729, but after taking into consideration areas such as the non-spendable fund balance, restricted and committed fund balances and others, the unassigned county fund balance is about $2,557,550.

Human Services is one of the biggest players in the county budget each year and will be needing additional workers, some of whom will be fully funded with perhaps state and/or federal money. Child support plans to eliminate one enforcement specialist and central services expects to authorize a custodian pool. The Health Department expects to add jail RN time; the sheriffs' department needs to add deputies, a communications operator and a part-time cook. Human resources and the county clerk also plan adjustments in their departments.

In addition Monday, Wehmeier addressed strategic plan implementation and provided what he called a "capital snapshot."

A total of $4 million is expected to be spent on highway projects and Wehmeier said these will likely include rehabilitation of County Highway B from the Waukesha County line to the Dane County line -- the entire expanse of the highway in Jefferson County at a distance of 23 miles. This will cost the county $2.4 million in its levy. Jaeckel and Wehmeier acknowledged the highway is in good condition at the moment, but it will take this rehabilitation to keep it in good order for the next two decades. They also said the county is fully aware of the stress the roadway takes as it is considered a perfect alternate to Interstate 94.

County Highway CI is also slated for rehabilitation from State Highway 106 to County Highway Z, a distance of 5.10 miles. This will take $222,000 of related funding and $1.378 million from the levy.

Many other departments are making capital requests, but in the eyes of the finance committee Monday and in Wehmeier's view, all are necessary and seem to be viable in terms of the budget for the coming year.

Haugom, director of Jefferson County Emergency Management, was the first department head to meet this week with the finance committee. She outlined her budget briefly and answered committee questions. She said she wants to begin establishing Family Assistance Centers in the county when there is an emergency or disaster. She said these could be temporary headquarters where families or groups could meet in the case of disasters that displace them from their normal bases of operations. Haugom said she feels the county has taken this project as far as it can and should now hire a consultant to "take it to the next level" at which the county would be able to envision how these centers could be set up.

Haugom also said the emergency management department could use a drone in its arsenal of devices it utilizes in the cases of disasters and emergencies.
"I think (a drone for the emergency management department) is a no-brainer," Jones told the group.

The 2019 budget for the emergency management department was tentatively ratified, as was a budget for the office of Jefferson County Medical Examiner Tesch.