Sauk County committee won't reverse tax levy decision (copy)

Supervisor Richard Flint of Reedsburg speaks during an Oct. 10 meeting of the Sauk County Board's Finance Committee.

News Republic file

After a one-minute discussion Monday, a panel reaffirmed its decision to manipulate a budget line in order to justify a larger Sauk County property tax increase next year.

The Sauk County Board’s Finance Committee declined to support an amendment proposed by Supervisor Nathan Johnson of La Valle that would reverse a budget maneuver the committee made in early October.

“If we have a bad-weather year, or a bad-economy year, this could easily throw it way out of whack,” Finance Committee member Richard Flint of Reedsburg said.

During an Oct. 10 meeting, after weeks of budget deliberations, the committee had worked out a balanced $90 million county budget that required a property tax levy of $30.8 million.

The committee was then informed that a state cap on the county’s levy growth allowed for additional collections of $224,342. So Flint suggested the county maximize its tax revenue and increase the levy by that amount.

In order to justify the increase, he suggested the committee arbitrarily lower its sales tax revenue projection by $224,342.

The move won unanimous support from the other three committee members in attendance: Supervisor Eric Peterson of Prairie du Sac, Committee Chairman Tommy Lee Bychinski and County Board Chairman Marty Krueger, both of Reedsburg.

The amendment to undo that move proposed by Johnson — who is not a Finance Committee member — was one of eight the committee considered Monday.

Johnson wrote in his proposal that the state’s restrictive levy limits “should not be used as an excuse for Sauk County to exploit its taxpayers by taxing them twice.”

Although the amendment did not win the committee’s support Monday, it still may be considered during the board’s annual budget meeting next week.

Flint said Monday the committee’s current $8.8 million sales tax projection is 9 percent higher than this year’s estimate.

But county sales tax estimates have traditionally undershot actual collections. In 2016, the county collected $1.3 million more than the $7.5 million in sales tax it had projected. The surpluses have helped the county build its reserve funds.

“I totally realize that there are supervisors who are going to look at that and say, well it’s still not what we think we’re going to end up with (in sales tax revenue) for the end of the year,” Flint said. “But there is precedence in your budget for a reduction in sales tax.”

He supported the latter statement by noting that the county’s sales tax collections decreased from 2010 to 2011.

Bychinski and Krueger did not comment in support or opposition of Johnson’s amendment. After Flint said he opposed the proposal, Bychinski moved the discussion along to the next amendment.

Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance President Todd Berry has called the committee’s Oct. 10 move a budget “trick” that is legal, but not transparent fiscal behavior.

He said the state’s poorly crafted law to restrict property tax levy growth encourages local governments to take the maximum allowable increase each year. If they don’t, they establish a new baseline for themselves in the following year and lose most of the unused growth capacity.

Also Monday, the Finance Committee declined to support six other proposed budget amendments, including one to eliminate $485,000 in spending on the expansion of a Reedsburg health care campus.

The committee only put its stamp of approval on one noncontroversial amendment to account for a $150,000 grant to the Sauk County District Attorney’s Office. The grant was awarded after the committee had finalized its budget proposal.

The County Board will consider adoption of next year’s proposed budget following a public hearing Nov. 14. Although the county’s levy would increase by 2 percent under the proposal, the rate at which property owners would be taxed would decrease by 1 percent.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.