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The Jackson County Board of Supervisor set the 2018 budget Nov. 13 at $27.6 million with a tax levy of $10.5 million, which is expected to reduce taxes across the county.

“The levy actually went up $109,030 compared to 2017, but having said that, the tax payers will not see an increase on their taxes because the equalized value went up also. Based on calculations of equalized value, a person owning a $100,000 home should actually see a $5.49 decrease in their taxes,” Jackson County Clerk Kyle Deno said.

Deno cautioned that even though taxes should go down based on the equalized value of your home, it all depends what town or village you live in because what you are actually taxed is based on the assessed value of your home.

Despite posting a slight levy increase, Deno said budgeting gets more difficult every year.

“I think every year gets harder to be able to put a budget together and stay within the levy limits,” Deno said. “It makes it a struggle to continue to provide all the needed services to the citizens of Jackson County within those parameters.”

Levy limits were set many years ago by the state, and then a county’s budget can increase every year based on its net growth.

Deno said, like many other years, growth in 2017 was not a tremendous amount of money, so the levy limit could only increase by a small amount. Many years of this has put strain on departments like the Highway Department.

“We certainly would like to do more roads,” Deno said adding that currently the Highway Department is on a 90-year rotation for their roads. “When I first started with the county, which is about 29 years ago, we were on that 20-year rotation.”

Big changes in budget

Even though things are tight, Jackson County was able to split the GIS specialist/E911 coordinator/real property lister position into two separate positions.

County Board Chairman Ray Ransom said that a request came from several departments to split the position because it was becoming too large of a responsibility for one person. Jackson County Sheriff Duane Waldera felt it was becoming a public safety risk because the position plays an integral role in the county’s 911 system.

The new position is the major reason expenses for the GIS Department increased nearly $70,000.

Several other departments will see dramatic increases in expenses next year including the IT Department, which increased by $74,359 to replace some of the computers in the county.

“Several years back Health and Human Services received grant funding for some computers and now those have hit the four or five year limit on how long we keep our PCs. So it is time to switch them out so there was quite a few new ones that hit the paperwork to replace,” Deno said.

The Jail Department will also have a $73,340 increase, which Deno said was mostly due to increases in salaries.

Even though some departments did see an increase in expenses, Deno points to one reduction in spending that helped to balance the budget.

“Our health insurance came in at a 10 percent decrease. The county is switching from Health Traditions, and on Jan. 1 we will be going with a Quartz/Unity plan and the premiums came in at a 10 percent lower rate. So that was probably closer to $300,000 in savings,” Deno said.

The county also turned to Ho-Chunk Nation funds to help pay for another major expense.

“They are utilizing Ho-Chunk funds to offset the debt service still on the new bonding for the courtroom, so that does save the taxpayers a lot of money. That would be like an additional $231,000 that they could actually levy for because it is a debt service, but they’ve chosen to utilize Ho-Chunk funds because it benefits the whole community that way,” Deno said.

The board also approved the usage of fund balance to pay for some capital expenditures. “That is part of the board’s wishes at this point in time is that they utilize it for projects or capital equipment. They prefer to not use it for positions,” Deno said.

The general fund will be using $517,640 from its fund balance to pay for projects such as computer replacements, new police cars and building upgrades and fixes. The Department of Health and Human Services will also be dipping into their own fund balance.

On top of using fund balance, the board also approved the usage of three years of unused levy that had not been used.

“We had $65,047 that was sitting on the table yet that we hadn’t used in three previous years, so they did vote to allow that,” Deno said.

Even though the budget is set, Deno said that there are still a lot of unknowns for next year, particularly in the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Health and Human Services is always a volatile area. We hope that how they’ve planned—you know anticipated some expenses—we’ll come in at that, but if you have a client that ends up in Mendota it can be very costly,” Deno said. “They work very hard to make sure our citizens get the needed mental healthcare they need. You are always concerned because that can bankrupt you if you wind up with more than one or even just one (in Mendota).”

For more information on the 2018 Jackson County budget, go to www.co.jackson.wi.us.

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Jackson County Chronicle editor

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