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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board has reviewed a preliminary budget of $84.9 million for 2020 that reflects a $1.6 million budget deficit, even with $2.4 million in fund balance applied.
The projected property tax levy on the budget as it is now is $22.6 million, said Keith Strey, chief financial officer for Dunn County, at the Dunn County Board’s July 31 meeting.
Adjustments will be needed to the revenue and the expenses, and the tax levy must be reduced so it is within the state-imposed revenue limits, he said.
Overall, the 2020 budget is less than the 2019 budget, Strey noted.
The budget approved by the Dunn County Board last fall for 2019 was $85.6 million.
“It is abundantly clear the county has a financial (challenge),” Strey said.
This year’s budget includes $3 million for the Community Services Building, he said.
Dunn County plans to move all of the county offices currently located in the Dunn County Government Center on Wilson Avenue to the Community Services Building on Highway 12/29 sometime this fall.
The $1.6 million budget deficit “is not unexpected and is not particularly alarming,” said Paul Miller, county manager.
Over the past few years, it has never happened that the budget is balanced without effort, he said.
The Dunn County Board will face challenges and will have tough decisions to make, Miller said.
Solutions to the deficit could include finding additional revenue, reducing costs or borrowing money, he said.
The standing committees and the county board will be asked to look at the budget, to ask questions and to make decisions, Miller said.
“I get tired of beating the drum — money, money, money. But we are not the only ones, and we are not unique,” he said.
Dunn County has actually been fiscally conservative and responsible, Miller said.
And while there are challenges with the budget, “we are doing okay,” he said.
Miller, along with David Bartlett, chair of the Dunn County Board; Kristin Korpela, director of Dunn County Human Services; and Sarah Benedict, Criminal Justice Collaborating Council coordinator, recently attended a conference for the National Association of Counties in Las Vegas.
The opportunity to go to the conference gave Dunn County a chance to network with others, Miller said.
“We are not doing so bad,” he said.
In fact, compared to some other counties in the country, “we are doing pretty well,” Miller said.
Counties throughout the United States are facing budget challenges, he said.
Half of the sessions at the NACO conference pertained to problems with addiction and mental health, Miller said.
The department of human services experienced a $1 million budget deficit last year related to county residents with mental health problems or suffering from addiction as well as children being placed in foster care.
Dunn County has implemented some programs that have “put us ahead of the game,” Miller said, adding that Dunn County is now being asked to present at conferences concerning the programs.
Over the last 10 years, Dunn County has succeeded in reducing the jail population and implementing a treatment court to help deal with addiction and mental health problems, he said.
In addition to maintaining a presence at NACO, it is also beneficial for the county to maintain networking contacts with the Wisconsin Counties Association, Miller said.
Representatives from Dunn County have been able to talk about the state-imposed revenue limit and the tax levy law with representatives of the WCA, he said.
The state of Wisconsin imposed tax levy limits on villages, cities, townships, counties and school districts 25 years ago. Operational costs have increased over the years faster than the levy limit has increased, and as a result, municipalities and school districts have been struggling to make ends meet.
Twenty-five years ago, for example, a mile of road could be paved for about $20,000, and the cost now for paving a mile of road is between $100,000 and $150,000.
Miller said talking with the WCA representatives gave Dunn County an opportunity to discuss a way to change the levy limit law that would help municipalities and school district budgets.
Instead of limiting the tax levy increase to the amount of net new construction, Dunn County’s idea is to add the regional Consumer Price Index to the net new construction for the allowable property tax levy increase, Miller said.
The Wisconsin Counties Association lobbies state government about legislation that would be beneficial to the counties.
Miller said he hopes the WCA will be willing to advocate for adding the regional CPI to the net new construction to adjust the way the levy limits are calculated.