While budgets offer opportunities to improve upon areas in which we wish to do more or better, the ability to do that comes from our many successes. S&P Global recently recognized the county’s financial management practices by giving us the distinct AAA bond rating. In doing so, S&P commended Dane County for developing, “very strong reserves thanks to aligning budgeted expenditure with revenue growth carefully.” When I started as County Executive, the county’s reserves had been depleted by the U.S. Great Recession. Today, our reserve stands close to $45 million and is critical to us being able to secure the lowest interest financing possible for critical infrastructure like construction of the new Behavioral Health Triage and Restoration Center or our work to improve the water quality of our lakes. None of these financial management best practices will capture headlines but they are the backbone to this and every budget we’ve done together which has helped our county navigate this pivotal (and incredibly difficult) period in our nation’s history. I’m grateful to the County’s Chief Financial Officer Chuck Hicklin for his leadership in helping restore our county’s financial footing.
I’d like to call attention to a few other areas of this budget. Highway maintenance remains a high priority. I’m including $15.6 million for a variety of projects across the county, the most substantial of which is $2 million for the reconstruction of Highway M north of Lake Mendota. Significant work ($1.95 million) is also planned next year for County Highway AB from Highway 51 to County Road MN (near McFarland). Improvements are also slated for Highway BB near Cottage Grove ($1.5 million) and Highway N in the Town of Dunkirk ($1.6 million). The county is competing for federal dollars for a series of projects, continuing our commitment to rural infrastructure.
I’m adding positions in this budget to our 911 Center, Department of Planning and Development, the District Attorney’s Office, Department of Administration, and Medical Examiner to help meet increased demands for work in those areas. These will help manage overtime expenses in a 24/7 operation like 911 and better align staffing levels with job demands in these critical county functions. The five new positions in 911 will better free up 911 call-takers to prioritize emergency calls and improve the department’s continuous improvement quality assurance review work. I’m also proposing new positions to support our county’s Division of Information Management, Employee Relations, and the Controller’s Office.
Given the national rate of inflation, I’m proposing a two-step cost of living adjustment for all of our county workforce consistent with the consumer price index (CPI). My budget provides a 3% wage hike the first of the year with an additional 3% coming in July of 2022. This significant bump reflects my gratitude to county workers for their patience and continued professionalism through times that were no doubt challenging for all those who provide direct services. These employees went without any wage modification one year ago and it’s important that as the region’s economy stabilizes that we recognize the work our public employees do every day. This is also inline with the national increase in Social Security premiums and consistent with the impact inflation has had on the CPI and the higher costs on goods and services.