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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Public Can Comment on County Budget Nov. 8

Members of the public will have their chance to comment on the proposed Marinette County budget for 2017 when County Board holds its annual budget hearing at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

After the public comments the board is expected to adopt the proposed 2017 budget which calls for spending a total of $59,450,180, which is down $5,612,899 from last year's $65,063,079.

Tax rate to support that operating budget, if left as is, will be set at $4.322 per $1,000 of equalized value, down 4.2 cents per $1,000 from $4.364 a year ago. This is in addition to a debt service levy of 23.8 cents per $1,000, down slightly from 25.1 cents per $1,000 last year. There also will be a special purpose levy of 4.2 cents per $1,000, which is mainly for bridge aid.

County spending plans for 2017 include some capital improvement projects that may or may not involve adding more borrowing to the county's existing $30 million of debt. There are plans in progress to make changes to the already approved 5-year capital improvement plan at the board's December meeting with the goal of eliminating the need to borrow in 2017. That plan called for borrowing an additional $5,910,000 for projects to be done in 2017. This would be added to the existing $30 million of county long term debt, but in response to discussions at numerous Executive and Finance Committee meetings in the past few months Administrator Shawn Henessee had asked the department heads with most of the debt service funded projects to pare down their want lists to bare essentials. The new CIP is expected to come to the board for approval in December.

Supervisors got their first look at the 2017 budget book at their meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25. It is in a brand new format that Henessee felt they would find more "user friendly" than budget books in prior years.

At that meeting also Henessee presented his annual budget message. He said the governor's Biennial (state) Budget continues to incorporate a tax levy limit and it is highly likely that these levy limits will continue to be in place for some time. This limit restricts a county's levy increase to the county's net new construction growth in equalized value, otherwise known as "new growth." The county's net new construction for was .796%, which equates to an allowable 2017 levy increase of $121,769.

Henessee said this is less than the expected new construction growth rate of 1% and a $152,976 operating levy increase, a loss of $31,507 for the operating levy. For the 2016 budget there was a loss of $44,050 for the operating levy.

Henessee noted the proposed budget continues to set the operating levy at the legal maximum, which is $15,419,408.

The county's equalized value increased 2.165%, to $3,581,047,200, not including Tax Incremental Districts. This is due to increases in existing property valuation exceeding new construction within the county.

The county's unassigned fund balance is $8,298,417, Henessee wrote. This is an increase of $1,390,707 over the fund balance available for the 2016 budget.

Henessee noted the unassigned fund balance does not include the $19,058,908 the property tax reduction fund, which is dedicated to the county's general fund balance. All investment revenue generated from the property tax levy reduction fund is used to fund county services and reduce the county's tax levy.

On June 28, 2011 County Board adopted a Fund Balance Policy which requires the administrator to consider the fund balances during budget preparation and requires the total General Fund unassigned fund balance to be maintained at no less than 17% of the total regular General Fund operating expenditures. The ending General Fund balance for 2016 is expected to be $6.2 million, which Henessee pointed out is a ratio of 28%, well within compliance with the policy, but 2% lower than last year.

The half a percent county sales in effect since 2001 will bring an estimated $3,250,000 into county coffers in 2017. Two months ago County Board eliminated a provision that would have ended the sales tax in a few years when the Law Enforcement building is paid for. The amount of sales tax proceeds applied to the 2017 budget increased to $400,000 from the $321,353 in 2016.

State shared revenue for 2017 is expected to be $1,638,878, up 2.24% from last year, which was mainly attributed to the Utility Aid portion of shared revenue.

Henessee noted the 2017 proposed budget includes $350,000 to fund raises that may result from the wage study currently in progress, a $43,830 increase in state highway aid, a $1,500,000 savings from changes in the health insurance coverage provided for county employees, an increase of $83,521 in retirees health insurance if kept in the same plan, an increase of $35,868 in shared revenue from the utility tax, and increase of $57,024 from an unused adjustment from the previous year's unused levy.

Henessee noted the county has used its Capital Improvement plan to pay for a wide variety of projects. While many are paid for with dedicated funds and not borrowed money, the Highway Department has almost exclusively used borrowed money for major projects.

The Facilities Director had also asked for borrowing slightly over $1 million for projects. He had asked both of them to go through their lists. The Facilities Director has cut his request to $425,000 and the Highway Commissioner trimmed his proposal down to $1,556,000 with $348,500 to be added to the regular budget for maintenance. The Committee and then County Board approved that change. Altogether those major changes and others brought a reduction from $4,910,000 in CIP borrowing to a proposed $2,974,500, and that too may be eliminated before the CIP is finalized in December.

Henessee said eventually they need to get away from borrowing each year, and instead should start saving for major projects. He said they will probably not be able to prevent borrowing in future for major projects but has stressed at recent meetings that the amounts repaid each year in general should exceed amounts borrowed.

If approved as proposed the owner of a $100,000 property will pay $456 for county government. Of this, $183 will be for sheriff, jail and rescue squad; $40 will be for coroner, general dispatch and emergency management; $47 for highways , $87 for health and human services, $20 for the court system, $19 for Land Information Services (which includes land and water conservation, zoning, solid waste and geographic information); $4 for Veterans and dependents; $8 for Extension; $3 each for tourism, economic development, and child support; $4 for aging; $2 for UW Marinette, $14 for parks and Camp Bird; $30 for library services, and $24 for debt service.

Of the county's approximately $30 million of long term debt at this time, $11 million remains from financing the new jail and law enforcement center, and $18 million is from money borrowed to finance Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) sine 2013.

Henessee said where he came from the CIP was a "wish list" and in his 13 years there he believed he got two of the things he requested. He said as advised by Bond Consultant Jeff Belongia, Marinette County has an excellent credit rating and could borrow a great deal more money if needed. However, he would prefer to get the existing debt paid off and each year if there is excess sales tax money after paying for capital projects, tourism promotion, economic development, and departmental operations it should go into "a CIP pot" from which capital improvements will eventually be funded.

He said over the years the county has accumulated an $8 million unallocated fund balance, and Belongia said the county can spend about $4 million of this and still retain its excellent credit rating.

"Once we get through this budget process, it's important we go through department by department o identify efficiencies and determine where we can save money," Henessee said. He added they need to give department heads themselves a chance to say where they would cut spending if they absolutely had to.

The day for County Board will start at 9 a.m. on Tuesday with some standard monthly business that includes annual reports by 911 Dispatch Director Kirsten Bellisle and Stephenson Public Library Director Jennifer Thiele and notice of 2017 committee appointments.


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