FOND DU LAC COUNTY EXECUTIVE
2020 BUDGET MESSAGE
October 15, 2019
TO THE HONORABLE FOND DU LAC COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS:
Pursuant to my responsibility and authority under Chapter 59 of the Wisconsin State Statutes, I hereby present to you the proposed Fond du Lac County 2020 budget.
The proposed budget that I am presenting to you provides adequate funding for the county to continue the same level of service in the areas of public safety, while also maintaining the county road system, and allows the county to continue operations through 2020. This budget also allows Human Services the ability to address some of the additional needs of our most vulnerable residents in the county.
Counties, like all municipalities are still under the state-imposed property tax freeze capping revenue, while county costs and state demands continue to rise in most areas. This budget was again difficult to develop without cuts in services, due to cost increases in several areas. My frustration has been that the state legislature has eagerly taken credit for controlling property taxes, but it is the counties that must do the difficult work of making our budgets balance with inadequate revenues.
Other financial impacts in this budget include net new construction growth which for 2019 was 1.36% compared to 1.48% for 2018. That allows for a maximum levy increase of $513,745. Total equalized value rose 4.64% versus 3.86% last year, which equates to an inflationary increase of 3.28% in overall property values. The state retirement rate for employees increased by .20% of wages resulting in a county increase of approximately $89,000 for 2020. There is also two extra payroll days in 2020 due to the calendar change.
There were no significant revenue reductions in the state budget that have affected counties; fortunately, the Governor and Legislature did provide several significant revenue increases that benefit counties in the state budget. As a result of an increase in transportation funding for all municipalities statewide, Fond du Lac County general transportation aids (GTA) are rising $323,764 for 2020. In addition, Fond du Lac County is eligible for a share of a $26,000,000 special appropriation for counties to fund projects up to $3,500,000, but there is an application process, and there is no guarantee that with 72 counties and only $26,000,000 available, that Fond du Lac County will be awarded any of those special funds.
Harbor Haven will benefit from an additional $37,000,000 in nursing home reimbursement that was included in the state budget. That funding will help Fond du Lac County provide wage increases to staff, as well as pay for the other expenses for the operation of Harbor Haven Health and Rehabilitation. Following the remodel of the resident rooms, the rate of occupancy, and therefore the revenue increase, has allowed me, for a second year in a row, to propose that there be no tax levy supporting that facility in the 2020 budget.
The state budget also saw a $475,000 increase statewide for county conservation funding. With the additional revenue from that appropriation, Fond du Lac County is able to fill a vacant conservation technician position for the Land Conservation Office.
Statewide, $3,600,000 of increased funding was included for counties through circuit court support payments. While we still do not have the exact amount per court, we did budget $10,000 per court to offset the increase that the state supreme court provided for court appointed attorneys which is to be effective January 1, 2020. The original $70 per hour rate was increased to a mandated $100 per hour, an approximate 43% increase, which will more than use up the additional circuit court support payments causing the levy to be increased to support the Clerk of Courts Office.
Another issue that affects Fond du Lac County in the state budget is that there were also 64.95 Assistant District Attorney positions included, two of which have been awarded to Fond du Lac County. The District Attorney has begun the hiring process, and once the new attorneys begin working in that office, there will be a space crunch, which was anticipated, as these position requests had been going through the state budget process over the last several biennia.
New state funding for child welfare services
Following intense lobbying on the part of the Wisconsin Counties Association with the state legislature and the Governor, they agreed to include $25,500,000 of new funds to reimburse counties for their ever growing need related to the protection of children, commonly referred to as child welfare. Fond du Lac County’s share of those dollars is estimated at $611,000, but there were some reductions in other programs, which reduced that amount. That net amount did allow the county to create two new family support worker positions, a new social worker supervisor position, as well as increased pay for the child welfare workers, including the social workers, social worker supervisors, group home workers and family support workers. These changes will enhance the Department of Social Services’ ability to respond to the needs of children in the county and help with the retention and recruitment of these critical staff positions. In addition to the new staff and wage increases, there are dollars available to enhance the other services that are provided for children by the department. In addition to the increase in child welfare efforts, I am also proposing one other new full time position in the department, a social worker, to supervise the Pace Program in the county jail. The Pace Program helps the county reduce out of county institutional placements and provides an opportunity to bring children in from other counties. I am also proposing that we adjust the income maintenance staff wages and reclassify those supervisors.
Employee health premiums
Employee health insurance premiums increased 2%, but there are no changes in the benefits or deductible and co-pays for next year. Each 1% premium increase represents $105,000 on the levy, with the 2% increase adding $210,000 to the 2020 county budget.
In the salary contingency fund, I have added dollars for a 2.00% increase for all county employees for 2020. I had hoped to do more, but that is all the funds that are available. I am still concerned about the county’s ability to attract and retain employees because our wage increases are no longer keeping up with other counties or the private sector. Since Act 10 when employees began paying the employee share of state retirement, which will now be 6.75% of salary, county wage increases have not kept up. Fond du Lac County wage increase for 2011 was 0, for 2012 and 2013 .5%, for 2014 1½%, 2015 2%, for 2016 .5%, for 2017 1%, for 2018 1%, and for 2019 2.25%. For many of our employees their take home pay has grown very little, if any, from what it was in 2010.
We continue to modernize the county’s technology which, as we all are witnessing, has a short life span. This proposed 2020 budget includes $510,000 to fund the upgrade and replacement of the microwave networks on each of our six communication towers. Without this redundancy, serious damage to one of our communication towers could put emergency communications off line for a long period of time. In today’s world, that is not acceptable. That is why I am proposing to replace that equipment next year. I am also proposing $300,000 to fund the third and final phase of replacing the portable radios for the Sheriff’s Office. We will then have replaced all of the old, less reliable radios. While this is not technology, the same applies to the $75,000 budgeted to replace all the duty weapons for the Sheriff’s Office. The current weapons were purchased 20 years ago and are beginning to exhibit signs of failure, which is also not acceptable.
The big ticket item in technology upgrades which I am proposing to begin in 2020, is the replacement of the CAD/RMS jail mobile software for our emergency communication system. That amount of $625,000 is the first of three annual payments as the new software is being brought on-line. At this point, we are using estimates as it has not yet been decided which software package will be purchased. This is being evaluated by the users across the county, led by Communications and Emergency Management Director, Bobbi Hicken, so that the package that best serves all agencies will be selected.
In 2019, we will have upgraded the third of five court rooms by installing new audio and video technology in those court rooms. I am proposing we spend an additional $70,000 in 2020 for a fourth court room. We will need to budget additional dollars in the future to continue with the remaining court room.
Highway Department projects
A major project that the Highway Department will undertake in 2020 with the city of Fond du Lac, is the construction of a round-about at the intersection of Highway 45 (Fond du Lac Avenue) and Highway V and National Avenue. The project will have a total cost of $1,600,000, with a 50/50 cost share with the city. The most costly project for 2020 will be improvements to Highway F, which is expected to have a total cost of $2,722,000, and that total cost will be the entire responsibility of Fond du Lac County. Also, an improvement to County V from the south county line to Campbellsport Drive at a cost of $1,428,540, is also proposed for 2020. In addition, there are several smaller projects included in the proposed budget, as well as design and right of way acquisition of some future projects. The total county Highway Department budget for 2020 is proposed to be $15,474,146, which is a significant investment on the part of the residents of Fond du Lac County.
New Highway Garage
As of this writing, it is expected that the new county highway garage will be ready for occupancy sometime around Thanksgiving of this year. Other than the very frequent heavy rains that have affected the project over the last year, the project has been moving ahead on schedule and it appears that it will be on or under budget by the time it is completed. The new highway garage will not only serve the highway department, but also will house the Parks Department maintenance area. There is a separate building to park the senior services vehicles inside, as well as a Sheriff’s impound building with additional outside vehicle storage, and a new outdoor shooting range for the Sheriff’s Office. Overall, with the experience we have had with Excel Engineering and C.D. Smith Construction, as well as the other contractors under the county leadership of Director of Administration, Erin Gerred, Highway Commissioner, Tom Janke, Building Maintenance Supervisor, Rick Kiefer, with support from the Highway, Airport and Facilities Committee, I believe the project has gone as smoothly as we could have expected. I believe our finished product will serve the needs of the Highway Department and the other departments, well into the future. Portions of the old highway garage are 90 years old. It is expected this new facility will serve our needs for at least that long.
Sales Tax Revenue and Allocations
The budgeted 2020 sales tax revenue is $8,605,960. We have seen sales tax revenue increases averaging over 4% per year and we anticipate that trend will continue as the economy continues to grow. Sales tax dollars have been allocated for 2020 as follows:
$3,052,878 debt service on the Mercury Marine, Alliance Laundry Systems, and Mid-States Aluminum loans.
$2,950,000 for Highway projects.
$734,189 for economic development including $250,000 more for the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation Revolving Loan Fund.
$1,868,893 for other capital projects within the county.
Additionally, $730,925 of unapplied sales tax revenue through 2019 is projected to be carried over to 2020.
The 2020 proposed levy is $45,957,200 as compared to $44,438,507 or an increase of $1,518,693 including debt service payments. Equalized value, reduced by TID (Tax Incremental District) increased 3.94% to $7,817,497,400. The tax rate of $5.879 compares to $5.938 for 2019, a six cent decrease. Also, to meet this budget, I am proposing that we apply $2,000,000 from the unassigned general fund reserve that resulted from surpluses in the 2018 budget. That compares to $2,000,000 for the 2019 budget. Our undesignated reserve is projected to remain flat as compared to year-end last year. The county has had the long-time practice of applying the previous year’s surplus to the subsequent year budgets to maintain a stable unassigned undesignated general fund to protect our cash flow and our bond rating.
This proposed budget includes other areas of service to the people of this county that are too numerous to mention. The state of Wisconsin requires counties to provide a whole host of services from the Courts, to the Sheriff’s Office, to the Jail, to Human Services, to highway maintenance and other areas. Even considering the funding increases from the state, it is still challenging for counties to continue to provide the services that one, the state requires, and two, that the citizens of our county expect. Through the hard work of our department heads and the elected officials, we continue to provide the services that the citizens expect as we continue to search for ways to reduce costs and enhance revenue wherever possible. Because of the dedicated department heads, elected officials and employees that we have in Fond du Lac County, we have traditionally provided a very high level of service at a good value to the citizens of the county. It is my goal, and their goal, that we continue that tradition.
I wish to thank Erin Gerred, Director of Administration, Tammy Pinno, Director of Finance, Stacie Basler, Assistant Finance Director, Mary Jo Myers, Highway Accounting Manager and their staffs, and all the department heads and elected officials for their assistance in compiling the 2020 proposed county budget.
Allen J. Buechel