MAUSTON—With finances looking tight for another year, the Juneau County Board of Supervisors passed the county’s 2017 operating budget on Tuesday at the county courthouse in Mauston.

For 2017, the net county tax levy is set at $11,999,669, a small increase from last year ($11,934,004). In a report to the board, county finance director Lori Chipman said the debt levy decreased by $178,035 due to the refinancing of the county’s debt, which has been done the past couple years.

“This represents an 11.68 percent decrease in the debt levy from 2016,” Chipman said.

Overall, the operating budget increased by $243,700 from last year’s amount with a mil rate of $5.5915, a decrease of $0.02.

“This represents a 2.3 percent increase in the operating dollars levied,” Chipman said.

Included in the 2017 budget is a one percent increase in wages for all county employees, excluding elected officials.

Chipman said the county finance and computer committee applied $154,996 from the land sales capital projects fund and $297,907 from the forestry fund to pay for capital outlay items, which balanced the budget. The committee voted to reduce funding for the vacant secretary III position in the register of deeds office to 25 hours per week, and reducing funding for the account/data entry position in the finance department to 32 hours per week. Other cuts were made in the UW-Extension office and the sheriff’s department, which will move a court security position to LTE (limited-term employee). The new budget does allow funding for a full-time dispatcher for the emergency call center.

The total revenue for the budget is $33,491,552.

The county’s youth and families unit, under the department of health and human services, made a presentation to the board, asking for two full-time positions.

Kelly Firlus and Coralie Burrows from the youth and families unit said the department is underfunded.

“We need to add people rather than cut people,” said Scott Ethun, director of human services. “Our first priority is to protect the children of the county.”

Ethun said drug addiction problems among parents have led to more children in the youth and families program.

“We have an ever-growing drug culture in Juneau County and we need to provide families with preventive services,” Firlus said.

Burrows said she’s looked at ways to reduce costs in the unit. She said having more upfront measures to address problems with neglected children will benefit the county.

“Some of the cases we’re seeing are the worst I’ve seen,” Burrows said. “We have a methamphetamine and heroin epidemic in this county and across the state. But we need to put in services before it’s too late and kids wind up in foster care, which isn’t always the best solution.”

David Lasker, the county’s corporation counsel, said the DHS budget makes up the largest portion of the county’s overall budget. However, he said the county has dedicated personnel in the department who care about the county’s families. In addition, the department provides essential services through many important programs.

“I’m proud to be working with these folks,” Lasker said. “We have such a good quality of people doing a good job.”

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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