Jefferson County budget hearings under way

Steve Sharp: Adams Publishing Group

JEFFERSON — The annual budget process for Jefferson County officials is vastly different heading into the 2020 financial year than it was five years ago.

Among the goals for the long-term — as in 10 to 20 years down the road — will involve considerations about what to do with the current county courthouse.

The question for the 50-year-old facility in the heart of downtown Jefferson will be whether to raze it and build new, or renovate and remodel.

Jefferson County Administrator Ben Wehmeier began budget hearings Monday morning by providing the Jefferson County Finance Committee with an overview of the proposed 2020 budget and taxing document.

Wehmeier kicked off his yearly, hour-long overview of what the committee and department heads can expect this week by presenting what he called his “10,000-foot view” of the proposed 2020 budget.

The administrator said the needs of the next 10 to 20 years must be addressed in terms of how the county can achieve its larger objectives from budget and service standpoints. He said the county needs to continue collaborations it has with local municipalities, other counties, the state, the University of Wisconsin, private entities and others if it is to perpetuate successful county government.

Wehmeier asked for full Finance Committee feedback as the budget process moves forward during the week.

When the proposed 2020 budget, as well as the tax levy and rate, tentatively are approved by the committee on Friday, the document will move along to the full county board of supervisors for its study and input.

The document then is put before the public in an October hearing and is traditionally is approved by supervisors in November.

The proposed countywide tax levy for 2020 will be $28,045,222, compared to $27,636,322 in the current year, while the corresponding tax rate would be $3.089 per $1,000 equalized valuation. The rate in 2019 was a bit higher, at $3.99 per $1,000 equalized value.

Wehmeier said there are many reasons for the possible decrease in tax rate.

The county is prepared for a 1.5-percent market adjustment in terms of cost-of-living changes for employees and maintenance of its current insurance programs. He said target goals are, “becoming more of a challenge.”

Wehmeier lamented the ongoing and rising costs of information technology (IT).

“IT, IT, IT,” Wehmeier said, stressing its importance and financial burden to the county. He noted these costs are not going down in terms of maintenance, and that services and software costs are becoming real concerns in some areas.

According to Wehmeier, state budget impacts should not be negatives to the county in the coming year, as they sometimes have been.

“They should have a limited impact,” Wehmeier said, noting that among the departments most affected by state budgeting activities are the Human Services and Highway departments.

“When we are looking at this budget, I must stress that it’s not just for 2020, but beyond,” Wehmeier said.

Proposed expenditures for 2020, at this point in the budget process, will be $85,245,109. Estimated revenues are $52,581,041.

Under Wehmeier’s proposed budget, there would be a 1.33-percent increase in net new construction — translating to $96,426,600 — a bit below the 1.59-percent potential increase statewide.

Wehmeier said countywide revenues, as projected for 2020, will be higher than 2019. Sales taxes are expected to be up by $200,000, to $6.525 million. They are $6.3 million in the current budget.

The amount of state shared revenue is expected to remain static at $1.17 million. The utility tax also is expected to be stable in 2020, but is seeing a general trend downward.

Investment income for the county is nearly $1 million this year, but it is expected to decrease in 2020 as a result of federal action.


The county is reviewing its jail capacity to determine how much income it might generate in 2020 as a result of housing prisoners from the state Department of Corrections.

The county retains a healthy fund balance with a total of $31,512,928, as audited Dec. 31, 2018. This was an increase of $1,073,200.

Wehmeier listed program and personnel changes that are possible. Among them will be elimination of a half-time safety position and the creation of a full-time risk manager/safety officer at a total cost increase of $54,566.

In the Parks Department, there is expected to be an elimination of a three-quarters-time building and grounds worker and creation of a full-time buildings and grounds worker at a cost of $18,566.

In the Human Services Department, there is expected to be the creation of a half-time family caregiver at a cost of $27,702, along with creation of positions including those of facilitator, psychosocial rehabilitation worker, licensed practical nurse and a pair of psychotherapists. In the specific area of mental health and AODA, another psychotherapist’s position is being requested.

Several other full-time positions also are being considered in Human Services.

Highway Department fleet management was discussed, with some efficiencies being considered, as were the capital snapshots for the Parks Department, Highway Department, Emergency Management, Sheriff’s Office, corporation counsel, economic development and Fair Park.

Among highway projects slated for 2020 are those on County Highway J from U.S. Highway 12 near Fort Atkinson to County Highway A and County Highway E from Sullivan to Palmyra. Both roads run north/south.

Other projects under consideration for 2020 involve the continuing development of the old Highway Department facility site on Jefferson’s north side, a $3.4 million county communications project, along with a broadband project that would be performed as a public/private partnership.

Wehmeier concluded his budget overview by saying a serious conversation must be conducted about the future of county facilities, namely the courthouse.

He said staff is recommending that funding for such a project be examined, with a further recommendation — at this time at least — that the courthouse be remodeled rather than replaced.