MARINETTE — The lengthy process to develop a 2015 budget plan for Marinette County has begun.

The debate at the June 24 meeting of the County Board of Supervisors and a presentation by Finance Director Pat Kass showed that there will be many difficult decisions to make.

The process is scheduled to culminate with a budget message to supervisors on Oct. 28 and a public hearing and vote by the county board on Nov. 12.

“There are touch choices we are going to have to make,” said Kass, who is member of the three-person interim county administrative team. “Years ago, there were across-the-board cuts.”

The board last November adopted a budget that called for $74,482,952 in expenditures compared to $68,043,205 the year before with an operating tax levy of $15,045,207, an increase of $153,238 over 2013. It also called for an increase in the county’s operational tax millage rate from $4.191 to $4.277 per thousand of equalized valuation, or $9 per every $100,000 of property value.

Supervisors showed how serious they are about the budget process on June 24 when they referred a proposed list of 2015 capital improvements back to individual committees for review and possible cuts.

The list called for $7,908,567 in projects with $5,844,767 of those proposed to be funded with bonding.

The board made that decision after hearing about a half-hour overview of the county’s financial condition and upcoming challenges by Kass.

He said the county’s general fund balance was $31,706,605 at the end of 2013, decreasing $2,249.221 from the year before, $730,606 in 2012 and $654,697 in 2011.

Kass said unexpected expenses in 2014 included:

$48,000 for the chiller at the Law Enforcement Center.

In Information Services, $350,000 for Cisco switches that were failing and $85,000 for network replacement.

An additional $30,000 to repair a  roof at UW-Marinette.

Unresolved costs to settle litigation by a former county union that is now being appealed by the county in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The board, after its decision to refer the proposed list of capital improvements back to individual committees, approved a budget policy for 2015, which Kass said is basically the same as in prior years.

Kass said in the budget policy that he anticipates the allowable 2015 tax levy increase will be around 1 percent, based on construction growth in the county.

“This will allow for the operating tax levy increase of $159,452 for a total operating levy of approximately $15,195.659,” he said.

“We’re probably going to have to use that for implementation of the Wipfli (wage study).”

Kass added that the cost of health insurance is a “big question right now.”

“We paid $8 million for health insurance in 2015,” he said. “If that goes up 10 percent, that will mean we’ll need $800,000 more. We just don’t have the answer right now.”

Supervisor Ken Keller asked what the county’s savings are from having a clinic established for county employees about a year ago.

“The answer at this time is we really don’t have an answer,” said Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison, another member of the interim county administrative team. “HR has been working on gathering information to get an analysis.”

Kass said the tough choices faced in  drafting the 2015 budget plan will include:

Reorganization of departments.

Across-the-board cuts.

Further implementation of LEAN strategy.

Flexibility with use of county sales tax revenues.

Implementation of debt levy.

“By adding a debt levy, we can free up the sales tax revenue,” Kass aid. “Prior boards have said sales tax revenues are to be used for debt service only.

“And we’ve come each year at budget time and we’ve asked that you use it for tourism and we asked that you use it for capital improvements.

“And you agreed to that. But to give us more flexibility we may be asking that you use that to help us with operations. I know that’s probably a political topic that needs to be discussed.”