MARINETTE - Marinette County property owners will face a 2.05 percent tax rate increase if the proposed 2014 county budget is approved.
The county board will vote on Nov. 12 after a public hearing on a plan presented to it Tuesday by County Administrator Ellen Sorensen that calls for $74,482,952 in operational expenditures next year.
"This requires an operating (tax) levy increase of 1.029 percent for a total operating levy of $15,045,207," she explained to supervisors in her annual budget message. "Operationally, this is a cost to continue budget."
Sorensen said the budget plan would increase the county's operational tax or mill rate from $4.191 to $4.277 per thousand of equalized valuation, or $9 more per every $100,000 property value or two cents per day.
She said the majority of the tax rate change is necessitated by a 1 percent decrease in the county's equalized valuation to $3,517,700,700.
"This decrease is due to decreases in existing property valuations exceeding new construction within the county," Sorensen said. "The data used by the state of Wisconsin in calculating equalized values lags behind the current market conditions and is based upon the prior year's activity.
"Based upon existing 2013 data, it is predicted we may see another year of declining values which will impact the 2015 budget process. Our best-case scenario would be to increase our equalized value, however, we hope for no change for the 2015 budget cycle."
County supervisors made no comments during or after her report on the budget plan, reviewed twice earlier this month by the Finance Committee, and later Tuesday approved without debate the use of $374,000 in excess sales tax revenue in 2014, $239,062 less than this year.
Sorensen said without the use of excess sales tax revenues in the 2014 budget "the services our constituents rely upon, as well as the maintenance of county infrastructure, would be decreased or eliminated."
"Marinette County enacted a (half-percent) sales tax effective Oct. 1, 2001," she explained. "The state of Wisconsin had estimated the sales tax would generate $2,186,000 annually in Marinette County.
"Current experience shows the annual revenue generated by the sales tax will be approximately $3,005,000. The debt service tax levy would have been $2,720,725 or 0.773 per thousand of equalized value if the sales tax had not been adopted."
She said if the county board had not concurred with the recommendation to utilize excess sales tax revenue, the 2014 budget would have to have been reduced by $374,000 to meet the tax levy limitation mandated by the state. She noted that some of the excess sales tax revenues will help fund the tourism promotion budget.
Sorensen said the budget plan deviates "from a past practice" in that a $9,435,200 bond issue is included for capital improvements such as roads, an evidence building for law enforcement, surveillance cameras and web-based software programs to gain efficiencies for financial services and the Register of Deeds.
She said increases in the proposed budget include more funds for the Highway Department and Informational Services.
"The Marinette County Highway Department's 2014 budget request included some funding for the purchase of equipment," Sorensen noted. "The highway equipment budget is being funded as proposed by the commissioner and approved by committee.
"This is an increase of $355,000 over 2013 for a total of $855,000, including a new fuel system. The source of these funds is from depreciation and cash reserves. County road maintenance and construction have increased due to board approval of bonding for road improvements. The winter maintenance budget has been increased by $300,000 to ensure appropriate funding."
She said the Information Services budget is proposed to increase by $104,391 due to maintenance agreements for hardware and software systems.
She added that as the county begins to rebuild its technology the costs of maintenance will increase.
Sorensen said several initiatives are included in the budget plan to reduce operating costs including "outsourcing the multifunctional device fleet, migrating to an ACH payment system and a phone audit" and that additional measures would be considered.
"Surplus funds have been applied against the 2014 Marinette County budget to lessen the impact of federal and state revenue reductions," she added. "The proposed 2014 county budget will allow the county to maintain its financial conditions.
"It is important that everyone understands the importance of controlling expenditures and following good budgetary practices. The 2014 budget will be successful if everyone works together."
She said after presenting her report that she is especially proud that the proposed budget makes a "dramatic decrease" of nearly $900,000 in the county's structural deficit.
Helping accomplish that she said are declines in the application of surplus funds to the budget including $239,062 less from excess sales tax, $313,330 less from health and dental excess and $344,967 less from tax equalization and the unassigned general fund.
"These three lines total $897,359 less reliance upon the fund balance in 2014 than 2013 and applied to a $1.7 million structural leaves us a balance of about $800,000 to reduce over the next two years," she said. "That is aggressive, but if we work together we can succeed."
Sorensen said the administrative budget process could not be successful without the dedication of the Finance Department, heads and staff of other departments and the Finance Committee.
"My sincere 'thank you' goes out to them for their assistance in the preparation of the 2014 budget," she concluded. "As a local government, the county's primary focus must be on continuing to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of current county operations.
"It is our responsibility to give the citizens of Marinette County a good return on their investment of property tax values to ensure a good quality of life."