Columbia County Board Chairman Vern Gove has joked that perhaps county supervisors should bring a picnic lunch, or a pillow, to Tuesday’s meeting.
The agenda for the monthly meeting runs just two pages. But it includes a reminder to supervisors: “Please bring your 2018 annual budget book.”
Adoption of the proposed $76.6 million budget is the key agenda item, and it’s not likely to happen quickly.
The meeting starts at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday in the first-floor County Board meeting room in the Administration Building, 112 E. Edgewater St. At 10 a.m., a public hearing will be convened, during which anyone may comment on the proposed budget.
Only the 28 county supervisors, however, can propose and approve amendments to the budget before the vote on its adoption.
At least one of those amendments will be proposed by the County Board’s Finance Committee — to fully fund the Columbia County Economic Development Corporation, to the tune of $121,070.
The Finance Committee had originally proposed placing about half that amount in the contingency fund, to be released for the last six months of 2018 only with Finance Committee recommendation and a County Board vote. On Thursday, however, the Finance Committee reversed that proposal. Committee members cautioned, however, that the economic development entity, which is fully funded by the county, must change its bylaws to offer more County Board oversight into its operations, if there is to be any hope of receiving county money in 2019.
For the fifth consecutive year, the proposed budget calls for dipping into general fund reserves to balance the budget. The amount of reserves proposed, $1.9 million, is less than the $2.8 million in reserves used to balance this year’s budget.
But a 26-page booklet on long-term county budget issues noted that such practices cannot continue indefinitely. The county must keep on hand at least enough reserves to operate the county for two three months; this year, the cost of operating Columbia County for three months comes to $18.5 million, according to the booklet, titled “Making Cents: Columbia County Guide to Budget/Finances.”
For 2016, the latest year for which reserve amounts are concrete, there was a little more than $22.6 million in undesignated general fund reserves.
The expected budget amendments aren’t all negative.
County Comptroller Lois Schepp noted that the cost of employee health insurance will be about $400,000 less than originally proposed in the budget, as a result of the Human Resources Committee’s decision to switch insurance carriers from Wisconsin Counties Association Group Health Trust to the Dean Health Plan.
Schepp also told the Finance Committee that a separate resolution would be needed to give Columbia County the authority to collect an additional $344,675 in property tax. The amount, she said, is computed on a state-established formula, and represents an adjustment for unused property tax levy carried forward from previous years.
All told, Columbia County’s proposed 2018 budget calls for levying up $27.178 million in property taxes. Of that, $380,162 is for debt service, including the $45.51 million building project and several older expenditures that still need to be paid off. The county also is eligible for a $265,850 increase in its levy due to new construction. (This does not include the new Administration and Health and Human Services buildings, as these are not on the tax rolls.)
Property taxes account for the largest single share of the county’s revenues, 41 percent.
But if a property owner’s assessed valuation stayed the same, the county portion of the tax bill would go down slightly. The proposed mill rate for 2018 is 5.141 per $1,000 assessed valuation, down from 5.147 this year.
Tuesday’s County Board meeting will start with a presentation that is intended to honor veterans — in particular, a gift from veterans to the county.
Veterans Services Officer Richard Hasse said the county’s American Legion Council has donated a set of flags to be displayed in a glass case just outside the Veterans Service office, on the first floor of the Administration Building.
The eight flags displayed there now, Hasse said, were flags that he acquired. The new ones are decorated with gold fringe and displayed with new bases and finials on the poles.
A representative from each local American Legion post in Columbia County will carry in the flags at the meeting’s beginning. Norm Bednarek, the adjutant for the Portage American Legion post — and one of three members of the county’s Veterans Service Commission — will speak.
A longstanding tradition of the county’s Future Leaders Active in Government program, “Breakfast With Your Supervisor,” will be held at 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Columbia County Law Enforcement Center, 711 E. Cook St.
There are 22 high school juniors and seniors participating in FLAG this year, and not all of them live in Columbia County. But those who live in neighboring counties have invited their supervisors, too — to discuss, over breakfast, any number of topics related to government and citizenship.