Committee forwards budget to the board

By Steve Sharp:

JEFFERSON -- The Jefferson County Finance Committee agreed Friday it will forward a proposed countywide tax levy of $27,636,322, with a corresponding tax rate of $3.99 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, to the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

From that point through Nov. 6, supervisors will have the opportunity to provide suggestions and amendments regarding how the document might be improved. On Nov. 8, the finance committee will look at these potential changes, with the county board providing its final approval of the document, as it traditionally does, at its November regular session.

In late 2017, the 2018 countywide tax levy was set at $27,357,982, which brought with it a tax rate of $4.16 per $1,000 of equalized valuation.

Richard Jones, chairman of the Jefferson County Finance Committee, said he was pleased with how the budget process went for his committee this year.

"We, as a county, have a very strong budget for 2019. This was a good year," Jones said. He added that, among other things, county employees will be receiving cost-of-living raises and needed capital items can be acquired. The county should operate well, too, in terms of its services to the public.

Jones said the relative ease with which this year's budget was created -- compared to some past years -- is due, in part, to "good planning" in previous years. Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier has stressed throughout the budgeting process that the county must continue to look beyond just the coming year as it attempts to keep the county not only financially solvent and operational, but moving forward.

"The budget process continues to go well," Wehmeier said at the conclusion of the meeting Friday. "Although this week highlights much of this work, this is truly a team effort, with yearlong efforts between the public, elected officials and staff. This has facilitated the process to communicate ideas and priorities. The budget has hit several key goals and is within the means of the county."
Wehmeier said this year incorporated the recently finished strategic plan into the process as the county carries out its vision.

"One of our recurring themes continues to be that decisions we make in the current fiscal year are also appropriate for the long-term fiscal health of the county," he said.

As the committee was preparing to provide its tentative approval of the proposed budget Friday, the subject of county fund balance policy was addressed at some length.

According to Jefferson County Finance Director Mark DeVries and Wehmeier, the "safe management" of the county fund balance is always being emphasized and they look consistently at their diverse investment strategies to insure the fund's health.

"I think we are moving in a very positive direction," Jones said, addressing the county's approach to its fund balance policy.

The finance committee and others will continue to look at county fund balance policy before the matter goes under board scrutiny in October.

Earlier this week, the director of the Jefferson County Human Service Department, Kathi Cauley, met with the Jefferson County Finance Committee to present her department's budgetary needs for 2019. Her budget plans were ratified by the finance committee and will advance to the county board level for study and final approval in November.

The human services budget is among the largest county budgets in existence.
Cauley reiterated her department's mission statement, which is to enhance the quality of life for individuals and families living in Jefferson County by addressing their needs in a respectful manner, while honoring their independence and cultural differences.

Cauley highlighted and summarized her 2019 budget, saying it takes $9,013,863 in tax levy, a $386,782 increase from the 2018 amended budget. A majority of increases in expenses for personnel and operating costs, however, will be covered by federal and state funding, as well as public charges.

Discussing Human Services capital items that need to be purchased in the coming year, Cauley said $40,000 should be spent on two fleet vehicles, but these will be paid for via a fund balance. Other items include a:
-- Transport van for delinquent youth, $24,000.
-- Replacement of a boiler at the workforce building, $40,000.
-- Replacement of the roof on the old Human Services building, $100,000 via the fund balance.
-- Replacement of the roof at the 1994 Human Services building, $100,000 via the fund balance.
-- Software development, $125,317 via the fund balance.
The total cost for capital items in 2019 is projected to be $429,317.

The department expects to need about a half-dozen more workers as 2019 progresses. Cauley said among these will be a janitor and several therapists, as well as other mental health professionals. The therapists are needed to deal with the increasing number of cases that involve children and families, as well as abuse of opioids and alcohol.