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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Where Does The County Property Tax Money Go?

Issue Date: January 9, 2020

The holidays are over and tax time is here. Just about everyone who owns property in Marinette County and elsewhere in Wisconsin is expecting (or hoping) to pay at least the first half of their property tax bills before the end of January to avoid added charges.

Property Tax bills are sent out by Marinette County, but only 20 to 25 percent of the total tax bill is levied by the county and used to support county services. That means, of the total shown on the property tax bill on a $100,000 property, only about $440 will go to support Marinette County.

In addition to the $440 levied by Marinette County, the total property tax bill includes amounts levied by NWTC and the municipality and school district in which the property is located, minus a slight state tax credit. School Districts generally get the lion's share.

Properties located in special taxing districts, such as Lake Districts, are also taxed to support activities approved by their boards of directors.

So what do you get for that $440 per $100,000 that Marinette county levied this year?

The biggest chunk, $174, goes to support the Sheriff's Department, Jail and Rescue Squads that provide for public safety in the county. This includes traffic patrols, and criminal investigations including drug investigations, and some rescue services.

Operations of the Marinette County Central Dispatch, Emergency Management and Medical Examiner offices (formerly Coroner's office) add $41 to be spent in the realm of public safety from that $440. These agencies provide trained personnel to handle emergencies including all natural and man-made hazards. Emergency services are quickly dispatched whenever needed in Marinette County.

However, fire fighting and rescue squad services are not funded through the county except for dispatch. These are provided by Fire Departments supported by individual municipalities. Several municipalities, including the cities of Marinette, Peshtigo and Niagara, and the villages of Crivitz and Coleman also provide protection through municipal police departments.

While the County does provide limited money to support rescue squads, the amount comes nowhere near to covering the full costs. The remainder comes from local municipalities and fund raising by the various squads, most of which are set up as private non-profit organizations..

Marinette County's multi court justice system costs $16 a year of the $440 paid by the owner of a $100,000 property. The court system includes a multi-court system consisting of two circuit courts, a circuit court commissioner, a district attorney's office, victim witness program, probate, and court clerk services. The courts handle criminal, traffic, small claims, juvenile, civil, probate, and family support cases.

The Clerk of Courts collects fines, bail, and court ordered payments; and keeps a record of detail of each court proceeding.

The District Attorney's Office handles criminal matters and assists citizens with problems that lie in their area of jurisdiction. The victim witness office ensures the rights of victims and witnesses.

Construction and care of county highways, including snow plowing and ice removal, accounts for $45 of that $440 property tax bill. The levy provides engineering, examinations, construction, improvement, and maintenance of the County's 334.28 miles of county highways. The Highway Department is also responsible for the maintenance of all state highways and provides services for various town roads within the county, and is reimbursed from the state and local governments for services provided to these entities.

The Marinette County Department of Health and Human Services gets most of its income from state and federal sources and private billings, but still costs the owner of a $100,000 property approximately $112 per year. The DHHS provides and administers various Federal, State, and local public health and social programs. Services are provided to the elderly, needy, chemically dependent, mentally handicapped and developmentally disabled.

There is also a Child Support office, which costs about $4 a year in taxes on a $100,000 property . This agency establishes legal fatherhood for non-marital children, obtains child and medical support orders, locates parents to establish and enforce obligations, and enforces and modifies all IV-D support orders.

Of the $440 property tax bill, $4 goes to provide assistance for the aging through Marinette County Elderly Services, which provides programs to help older county residents remain self-sufficient for as long as possible. Included programs are various nutrition sites, home delivered meals, transportation services, legal advocacy, outreach, information, and referral.

Extension Education (UWEX) gets $5 of the $440 total to use to design and provide education programs for the general public on family living, resource development, 4-H and youth development, nutrition, and agriculture. Land Conservation services are provided to reduce County erosion and improve water quality.

The county also has a Land Information Department which governs zoning and provides land and water conservation services and maintains survey and tax parcel data for $18 of the $440 tax bill. The Marinette County Land Information Department is made up of Property Listing, Surveying, Land and Water Conservation, Zoning and Sanitary, Solid Waste and Geographic Information. Goal of the Department is to design, develop and implement a Land and Geographic Information System that contains and integrates all land records within Marinette County. The department administers various ordinances that promote the public health, safety, and general welfare of all who live in or visit Marinette County, as well as, the protection of the natural resources of the County. The Land Information Department is the map repository for numerous maps (survey, parcel, floodplain, wetland, etc.) and maintains and updates the County tax listing data base.

The Register of Deeds office gets no money from the property tax levy, and in fact generates income that that reduces the levy on a $100,000 property by $2 a year. The department maintains copies of vital records for occurrences in Marinette County, such as marriages, births, adoptions and deaths, records all documents pertaining to real estate in Marinette County, and prepares documents for indexing and imaging. Income is derived from collecting recording fees, transfer fees, and license fees.

Revenues generated by the Forestry Department exceed expenses by an amount sufficient to cut the taxes on that $100,000 property by $47 a year. The Forestry Department ensures that the 231,000-acres of Marinette County Forest are managed and protected on a sustainable basis. Income from harvests are used to offset county spending in other programs. In recent years, harvests from these forests have provided $2.7 to $2.9 million in timber sale revenue each year.

Economic Development income was found to exceed expenses sufficiently to deduct $3 from the bill on every $100,000 property. Resources are invested to encourage activities in Marinette County, which result in constructive economic development and/or result in improved quality of life.

Library Services cost $28 a year on the $100,000 property. The money allows county residents to receive services from the Marinette County Consolidated Public Library System consisting of the main library (Stephenson Public Library in Marinette) and six branch libraries located in Coleman, Crivitz, Goodman, Niagara, Peshtigo, and Wausaukee. The libraries provide collections of print and non-print materials, as well as offering programs and services to meet the informational, educational, technological, and recreational needs of the public. They also provide computer access for county residents who may not have it available otherwise.

The huge Marinette County Parks system attracts visitors to the county and provides multiple and varied opportunities for outdoor public recreation and education and supports Camp Bird Youth Center at a cost of $9 on each $100,000 property this year. There also are campsite fees and an annual sticker or day use fee charged for use of county parks and boat landings, which helps offset the cost of operating them. The Parks Department operates 11 large parks, six small parks or waysides, seven boat landings, a 489 mile snowmobile trail system and a 437 mile ATV trail system, in addition to Camp Bird, which provides the youth of Marinette and surrounding counties with quality environmental education and recreation programs.

Local support for the Marinette County Veterans Services office and its programs totals about $4 of the $440, and with this money veterans and their dependents are provided with advocacy, information, and claims assistance for State of Wisconsin and United States Department of Veterans Affairs Programs.

Money spent for promoting tourism in Marinette County comes to $3 of the $440 total on each $100,000 property tax bill, but economic experts say the $3 generates far more than that in added sales tax collections, which are calculated separately.

One of the biggest bargains in the county may be the University of Green Bay campus in Marinette, which costs just $1 of each $440 in county taxes and provides for maintenance of buildings on the UW campus in Marinette. The buildings are owned by Marinette County, while classes and programs are provided through the UW system. In 2019 the name was changed to UW-Green Bay, Marinette Campus.

Marinette County officials are working hard to get the county's existing long term debt paid off, and again this year agreed to levy 25 cents per $1,000 for debt reduction, including using money generated by the sales tax. This equates to $25 for this year of the $440 taxes on a $100,000 property and is to be used to pay principal, interest, and related costs on the County's long-term general obligation debt.

Last but not least, general operations of the county cost only $3 a year for owners of a $100,000 property, another bargain in terms of services provided This includes County Board of Supervisors expenses plus those of County Administrator, Corporation Counsel, Human Resources, County Clerk, County Treasurer, Finance and Buildings & Grounds departments. Income from unallocated state aid, interest on delinquent property taxes, and interest on investments are credited to these functions and offsets the expenses.

According to the county's budget documents for 2020, the 2019 equalized valuation of the county increased 2.3% to $3,919,032,900, not including Tax Incremental Districts. This increase is a combination of new construction and increases in existing property valuation. Wisconsin's total statewide 2019 equalized valuation, not including Tax Incremental Districts increased 5.8%, more than double the Marinette County rate of increase.

The County's unassigned fund balance as of January 1, 2019 was $9,686,310.70, an increase of $513,657.74 over the fund balance on January 1, 2018. The unassigned fund balance does not include $11,708,907.50 in the property tax levy reduction fund or $2,000,000 in the service level stabilization fund, which are both committed to the County's general fund balance. All projected investment revenue generated from general fund dollars in 2020 will be used to fund County services in the 2020 budget.

In accordance with the County's fund balance policy, the total General Fund Unassigned Fund Balance is to be maintained at a level of no less than 17% of total regular general fund operating expenditures. The County's ending 2019 unassigned fund balance is anticipated to be in excess of $9,172,652, a ratio of 38 percent to general fund expenditures.

County Administrator John LeFebvre has recommended using a portion of this unassigned fund balance to cover the costs associated with renovation of the Old Law Enforcement Center Building on Ella Court Street behind the courthouse in 2020. LeFebvre said he does not expect that using a portion of the unassigned fund balance for this renovation project to bring it below the 17 percent ratio. County Board approved going forward with the renovation, and bids for portions of the project will be opened and considered for approval this month.

Marinette County enacted a county sales tax on October 1, 2001 to finance construction of the new Law Enforcement Center and jail on County T near the east city limits in Marinette. Later purpose of the sales tax was expanded to allow its use to reduce the annual property tax levy of Marinette County by paying the annual debt service obligation, financing capital outlay projects, and funding economic development and/or tourism expenditures. The 2020 sales tax revenue is projected to be $3,650,000 which is a 1.39% increase over the 2019 budget projection. In 2020 sales tax revenue is expected to fund just over 50 percent of the anticipated $6,843,475 of the principal and interest payment on the County's current debt. This is double the amount paid for debt retirement in 2019, and the difference was made up by the 25 cent per $1,000 debt retirement tax levy. Hopes are for the county to pay off an additional $3.79 million in general obligation bonds for the jail and highway and communications projects in December of 2020 and another $7.15 million in general obligation bonds for 2014 capital improvement projects when they become callable in February 2021.


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