Juneau County Council passed the 2023 budget at its Tuesday meeting, despite some dissent from supervisors and residents.
The total budget, including all expenses, is set at $47,140,888, down more than $1.1 million from 2022. This amount supports the county’s operating budget as well as a host of projects , purchases and improvements. It includes in particular a 3% salary increase for all county employees, excluding elected officials.
The budget also comes with a heavy debt – $3.74 million.
The funds will be borrowed in December and will become immediately available to the county. Board members on the finance committee pointed out that the amount will be repaid using part of the debt levy by March 1, 2023.
“It’s short-term debt, like what we did last year,” county chief financial officer Lori Chipman said. “The $2.5 million we borrowed in December was repaid in March.”
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At the council’s public hearing, residents questioned the need for the debt. Some demanded the county spend within its means, while others pointed to rising property assessments, asking how many homeowners would be able to afford both their homes and future tax increases.
“Yes, we need a police force. Yes, we need the streets plowed in the winter and repaired in the summer,” said Mauston resident William Riley. “But you can’t keep borrowing money forever.”
“My property has been reassessed by an additional $123,700,” said William Baker, a retired resident. “I can see the writing on the wall. The county is borrowing money now but will be looking to raise my taxes soon.
As property assessments go up, the mill rate, or the tax rate for property owners based on every $1,000 of value, goes down. Budget 2023 projects a mill rate of $3.9455, a decrease of $0.6427 from 2022.
The $3.74 million in borrowed funds will go towards capital improvement projects, which are major purchases that go beyond the one-year budget period.
“An operating expense is payroll, office supplies, fuel…everything consumable. A building is a long-term asset, a patrol car or equipment for road projects. These all have lives that extend into the future,” Chipman explained.
Fixed assets for 2023 include six squad cars for the Juneau County Sheriff’s Office, four snow plow trucks, a trash compactor and carpeting for the jail. The bulk of the spending will be for the reconstruction of County Roads I and HH.
Council members asked if the road works could be postponed to decrease the amount to be borrowed, which Dis. 15 Supervisor Roy Granger, who sits on both the finance and roads and public works committees, was quickly shot.
“We’ve delayed them long enough,” Granger said. “We will lose billions of dollars if we don’t do (these projects). We pushed back two or three this year that there just wasn’t the money to fund.
The resolution authorizing the $3.74 million debt was passed 16 to 4 with 1 absent. Jack Jasinski, Dis. 11, Aimee R. Stieve, Dis. 21, Ray Zipperer, Dis. 13, and newly appointed supervisor Thomas Winters, Dis. 10, all voted against the measure.
The budget is passed in the same way, 17 against 3 with 1 absent. Stieve, Zipperer and Winters remained opposed.
“I think we all have to trust communities that are actively addressing issues,” said Kim Strompolis, Dis. 3, concluded. “If this is the amount that Finance has proposed and said is needed, I think we have to trust them that this is the end result.”