By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Dunn County’s draft budget for 2017 of $78.4 million is showing a nearly $1 million shortfall.
“This is not unusual,” said Steve Rasmussen, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board at the county board’s September 21 meeting.
The budget usually starts out $3 million or $4 million short, he said.
The draft budget of $78.25 million shows a deficit of $994,733.
“We will eventually bring a balanced budget to the board,” Rasmussen said.
By state law, Dunn County must have a balanced budget by October 21, said Tonya Kusmirek, Dunn County’s chief financial officer.
Even though Dunn County has always managed to balance the budget before this, “it seems like it gets harder every year,” Rasmussen said.
Gary Stene, county board supervisor from Colfax, wondered about alternatives if the budget cannot be balanced.
“We have no other choice,” Rasmussen said.
Would Dunn County have to contemplate reducing the number of employees or reducing the services available to the public? Stene asked.
If the executive committee and county board members decide they want to lay off employees or reduce services, it could be done. The county could also try to find other revenue sources, Kusmirek said.
One of the other revenue sources could be a wheel tax, she said.
Kusmirek noted she had brought up the idea of a wheel tax several years ago to fund transportation in Dunn County, but a wheel tax was not something in which the county board was interested at that time, Kusmirek said.
Although it is too late to include a referendum question on the November ballot for a wheel tax, the county board might want to consider it next year, she said.
Dunn County could also go to referendum to exceed the revenue limit for operating expenses, Stene said.
A referendum is a possibility, and in the past, the county also has not filled positions again when someone retires or resigns, Kusmirek said.
Leaving a position open would not have a direct impact on an employee, she noted.
“In the past, ‘referendum’ was almost a swear word but now they are becoming more common,” Stene said.
School districts around the state have been holding referendums for operational expenses and three-quarters of those have passed, he said.
“I am concerned about this … we will have to come up with the ‘best’ worst one,” Stene said.
The executive committee will be holding an extra meeting to consider the 2017 budget, Rasmussen said.
The Dunn County Board’s executive committee will hold a special meeting on the first Wednesday in October, along with the regular monthly meeting on the second Wednesday, he said.
The deficit of $994,733 is what would remain after using $2.64 million from the county’s fund balance.
Without using the fund balance, the deficit would $3.6 million.
The draft budget for 2017 indicates $340,000 from the fund balance would be used by the sheriff’s department.
The Neighbors of Dunn County would use $500,000 from the fund balance.
The highway department would use $1.45 million from the fund balance, and facilities and parks would use $300,000.
According to the county’s financial statement, on December 31, 2015, Dunn County had an unassigned fund balance for the general fund of $14.75 million.
Dunn County’s outstanding debt as of December 31, 2015, was $40.7 million, and the debt limit was $99.4 million.
In other business, the Dunn County Board approved a resolution supporting public ownership of 990 acres along the Lower Chippewa River in the Town of Peru in Dunn County known as the “Tyrone property.”
Northern States Power/Xcel Energy has owned more than 4,200 acres along the Lower Chippewa River since the 1970s and had proposed building a nuclear power plant on the site, according to the resolution.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin denied NSP’S application early in 1979. After that, NSP considered building a coal-powered plant on the Tyrone property. In 1982, NSP returned land to the Bauer family that had been acquired through condemnation proceedings.
According to the resolution, “whereas the public has enjoyed recreational activities including fishing, hunting for many species of game, wildlife watching, and hiking on the Tyrone property with the permission of the landowner; now, therefore, be it resolved that the Dunn County Board of Supervisors expresses support for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ current effort to purchase 990 acres of the Tyrone property.”
The DNR Board has approved the purchase, and now the proposal has moved to the state Legislature’s joint finance committee, said Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing.
The Tyrone property would “be an asset to the county for tourism,” Rasmussen said.
The Town of Peru has zoned the area by the Chippewa River as “conservancy,” he noted.