County Executive Falk Introduces “Preserving Priorities” 2011 Budget
October 01, 2010
Joshua Wescott, Office of the County Executive (608) 267-8823 or cell (608) 669-5606
Proposal Includes Exciting New Partnerships and Efficiencies, Bulk of Funding for Human Services, Public Safety
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk introduced her 2011 county budget today that preserves funding for core human services and public safety programs while holding down property taxes.
“Last fall, we built a budget for 2010 that projected no improvement in the economic related revenues - - like sales tax - - that counties depend upon to provide basic services,” Falk said. “Because we planned for the worst and made the tough decisions a year ago, I’m able to offer a budget for 2011 that preserves our priorities - - public safety and human services - - while holding down property taxes.”
Similar to her past 13 budgets, Falk’s 2011 budget prioritizes funding for public safety and human service programs for vulnerable citizens including kids, seniors, and those with disabilities. Funding for the Departments of Human Services, the Sheriff’s Department, Public Safety Communications (911), Emergency Management and the District Attorney comprise over 70% of the dollars in Falk’s budget.
The budget has a property tax levy increase of 2.9%, the lowest Falk has proposed in more than a decade. Overall spending in the budget only increases 1.49%. The amount of proposed capital spending is down 18.4% from a year ago and is the second lowest capital budget in the past five years. The budget eliminates a net 14.5 positions.
“There’s a combined $22-million in back property taxes owed on 5000 properties in Dane County right now, so I’m looking forward to working with the county board on a budget that strikes a balance between holding down spending while at the same time funding vital services in the midst of this continued national economic downturn,” Falk said.
The County Executive’s budget creates new partnerships and expands upon existing ones with both local governments and nonprofit organizations. These partnerships are intended to improve the quality of life for citizens by improving tourism, enhancing the environment, and creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation, while reducing the burden on county property taxpayers.
Through creation of a new partnership with the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District (MMSD), Falk’s budget expands upon Dane County’s ongoing work to reduce runoff of phosphorus - - the greatest pollutant in our lakes.
In addition to new efforts to reduce phosphorus, this partnership has the added benefit of potentially saving MMSD ratepayers millions in costs they could otherwise see as a result of stringent new phosphorus standards from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. These new standards apply to all wastewater treatment plants, but under the new DNR rules, wastewater systems can meet the requirements by reducing phosphorus from where it originates.
In Dane County, the primary source of phosphorus is farm fields. Falk’s budget proposes creation of a new full-time coordinator to implement various phosphorus reduction strategies. These include working with farmers to convert row crops to harvestable grasses (these could be used for bio-fuel), planting harvestable buffers along drainage ways, and continuing to explore development of additional community manure digesters.
Another prominent partnership featured in Falk’s budget is an expanded relationship between Dane County and the privately-run organization that assists with fundraising and financial support for the Henry Vilas Zoo. The “Friends of the Zoo” (formerly the Zoological Society) have been aggressively raising millions over the past several years to move forward with construction of the zoo’s new “Arctic Passage.” This new facility will be home to polar bears, seals, and other animals.
The total cost of the project is $15-million - - half of which will be paid by the “Friends of the Zoo” - - and the other half will be shared between Dane County and the City of Madison (10% of the cost). Dane County previously authorized borrowing for two-thirds of its share of the “Arctic Passage” project and Falk’s budget authorizes the additional borrowing.
In addition, the “Friends of the Zoo” have also agreed to expand its financial support for day-to-day operations at the zoo (a total of $640,095 in private funding in 2011). That’s an increase of over $82,000 from this year.
Falk’s budget also introduces a new Dane County Partners for Recreation and Conservation Fund to help local governments and non-profits with cost-sharing for various recreational projects. A number of communities across the county are currently working on projects that could be eligible for assistance from this new $1-million fund. The Village of Cross Plains has considered restoration of Black Earth Creek in connection with local street improvements, the Village of Mazomanie is looking at improvements to Lake Marion and Black Earth Creek, and the Madison Area Youth Soccer Association is looking at a significant expansion of Verona’s Reddan Soccer Complex.
Dollars from this new fund could also be used to help make rural roads safer for bicyclists and motorists through wider, paved and marked shoulders. This would be similar to work the county did this summer when County Highway KP was resurfaced and paved shoulders were added.
The budget includes support for various other community partnerships including $15,000 for the new Madison Area Sports Commission (as announced by the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau in September), $7,500 to help Dane County Cultural Affairs work with local partners in planning the county’s 175th anniversary celebration in 2011 and $5,000 for grants to assist families of local veterans.
Falk’s budget has $1.77-million for the Conservation Fund and $1.56-million for the Land and Water Legacy Fund so the county can continue to partner with federal, state, and local governments and non-profit organizations to stop storm water run-off into lakes, restore stream-banks, construct trails, and preserve natural resources for public hiking, fishing, and hunting. There’s also $741,800 for various projects in the Land Water Resources Department, including additional improvements at Stewart Lake Park and other county parks facilities and trails.
Falk’s budget calls for a study in 2011 to merge the Dane County Departments of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. Other counties, including Waukesha County in Wisconsin and the City of Minneapolis in Minnesota have successfully consolidated these departments. Given their shared roles in coordinating emergency response and emergency preparedness, it’s anticipated further study will reveal additional opportunities for either a partial or full merger of these departments, improve emergency management and save on management costs.
The budget includes additional cost-savings measures. For example, county employees this year participated in voluntary health risk assessments which helped to reduce the increase in the county’s cost of providing health insurance to employees to 6.75% instead of an increase that could have otherwise been 11%. This effort combined with successful negotiating with the county’s insurance provider will result in a savings of about $600,000 in 2011.
Various efficiencies were achieved in several county departments. The County Clerk renegotiated a contract with a firm that prints election ballots for the county. That will save about $16,000. Jail food costs and medical contracts were also renegotiated to save money.
Because construction and development continue to be sluggish because of the national economy, a position was eliminated in the Register of Deeds office. In addition, a staff member in the Planning and Development Department will be redeployed to assist the County Treasurer with his increased workload due to a record number of foreclosures.
Falk’s budget increases local taxes by $1.9-million for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office (3.5% increase in 2011). The total budget for the Sheriff’s Office is $64.5-million. The budget also begins implementation of a series of recommendations from a recently completed outside audit of the Dane County Sheriff’s Office. That audit and study, performed by Matrix Consulting Inc., offered numerous recommended efficiencies with operations and staffing within the 570 member department.
While the audit recommended reductions in the number of deputies assigned to rural patrol, Falk’s budget makes no changes in those staffing levels. The study does recommend the sheriff review staffing assignments, including whether there’s a need to have the same number of deputies on the road during the middle of the night, even though there’s a significant reduction in the number of calls to respond to.
Falk’s budget does act on other recommendations from the study including the reduction of three community deputies, two detectives (the Matrix Study recommended a reduction of five detectives based on workload) and two staff members in the Electronic Monitoring Program due to a less than anticipated number of participants in the program. The budget eliminates a single position in each of the following areas of the Sheriff’s Office, based on other recommendations in the Matrix study: background investigations, service of civil papers, and one baliff.
Her budget proposes the addition of two new sergeant positions in the Sheriff’s Department’s Field Services Division - - another recommendation of the audit.
There’s also about $722,000 in the capital budget for the Sheriff’s Office for the purchase of 19 new squad cars, a new boat for the Lakes Patrol, and to make necessary improvements to a county-owned facility in the Town of Westport that will be used to store large emergency response equipment.
The budget also includes about $30,000 in new funding to purchase global positioning system technology for deputy squad cars. This technological advance was also recommended by Matrix as a way to ensure deputies closest to incidents are dispatched first. That will help improve response time to calls. This technology is already in use on all of the ambulances in the county and all of the Dane County Highway Department’s snow plows.
As detailed earlier this week, Falk’s budget restores more than a $1-million in proposed cuts to various human services programs. Falk’s Human Services budget for 2011 totals $243.5-million, or about 53% of the total county operating budget. (See attached)
Falk’s budget has the highest amount of capital spending for the Dane County Public Works and Highways Department in any of her 14 budgets. It includes about $4.6 -million for a series of important highway and bridge improvement projects across the county. The most high profile of these projects is the reconstruction of County Highway MS (University Avenue) between Allen Boulevard and Segoe Road. This $10-million improvement project will be funded by a combination of local dollars from Dane County, the Cities of Madison and Middleton, the Village of Shorewood Hills, and federal funding.
A series of other highway and bridge improvements are planned, including resurfacing two different segments of County Highway D (Fish Hatchery Road). This effort is also the result of a partnership between Dane County and the Cities of Madison and Fitchburg. The budget also includes nearly $600,000 in county tax dollars for bridge aids to 12 Dane County townships. These 27 different projects range from a $405,000 bridge improvement in the Town of Westport to a series of culvert upgrades in the Towns of Rutland, Medina, and Berry. Detailed lists of all the highway and bridge projects and a breakdown of the county’s share of the cost for each one are attached.
Falk’s budget now goes to the County Board for review and action. County committees will begin work on the budget this month and then it will go the full board for action, likely in November. Falk can then approve, veto, or partially veto the budget approved by the board. Final action on the budget is expected before Thanksgiving.