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Committee finalizes proposed $96M Sauk County budget

October 9, 2018

The Sauk County Board’s Finance Committee broke through an unusual stalemate Monday morning to finalize its 2019 budget proposal, sending it on to the full board.

After more than two hours of discussion, the five-member panel had worked through multiple adjustments to bring the county’s proposed property tax levy within state-imposed limits.

At that point, Supervisor Kristin White Eagle of Baraboo made a motion to forward the proposed budget to the full board. However, the motion failed when only White Eagle and Finance Committee Chairman John Dietz of Rock Springs voted in favor.

The other three committee members – Tom Kriegl of Baraboo, Bill Wenzel of Prairie du Sac, and Kevin Lins of Spring Green – didn’t say why they opposed the budget, and didn’t speak up even after some prodding.

“Is there any topic you wish discussed more?” Finance Director Kerry Beghin asked after an unusual period of silence. “Bearing in mind, the timeline is we need to have something put together and ready to go to the board next Tuesday night, and that takes quite a bit of prep.”

Nearly three minutes passed before the committee decided to move on with other agenda items. It then circled back to the county’s $96 million budget later in the meeting.

At that point, Kriegl said there wasn’t enough time for him to explain all his budget concerns. But he said he would vote in favor of moving it on to the full board. The committee then voted 3-2, with Wenzel and Lins voting against, to finalize its budget proposal.

After the meeting, Wenzel and Lins said their opposition centered on an adjustment the committee made earlier in the meeting to a line item within the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office budget.

The adjustment – which raised the department’s projected revenue from jail bed rentals to outside agencies – was proposed by Kriegl.

Lins said because Kriegl’s proposed budget change was approved, he felt like the onus was on Kriegl to explain why he didn’t support the budget during the deadlock that occurred.

“I didn’t need to repeat myself,” Lins said. “I told them what my reasons were early on.”

Kriegl’s change increased the sheriff’s projected revenue from 2019 jail bed rentals by about $112,000. He cited a sharp upward trend in rentals this year leading to another year of revenue in excess of the office’s projection.

Critics – including Kriegl and Dietz – say the office’s tendency to under budget jail bed rental revenue has caused it to rely more heavily on the county’s limited amount of property taxes, tying up funds that otherwise could have been used by different agencies.

Sheriff’s office administrative staff and others say it’s prudent to be cautious with the revenue projection. The bed rental market is unpredictable, they say, and failing to meet a revenue target that is too high would throw the agency’s budget out of whack and force expense cuts.

“The analogy I couldn’t escape is that if this is about revenue, and you’re exceeding your revenue, what do you do?” Wenzel said after the meeting. “Do you beat up your salesman for exceeding it?”

Increasing the bed rental projection by $112,000 allowed the committee to keep $71,000 for a new dental hygienist position within the Sauk County Public Health Department in the budget. It used another $22,000 in available levy to restore educator contracts within the University of Wisconsin-Extension office.

Lins had proposed an alternate to Kriegl’s jail revenue proposal that included a more modest increase. He said his proposal was based on daily average bed rentals from January 2016 to present.

His proposal would have brought the budget within the state’s levy limits, but would not have allowed the committee to maintain funding for the dental hygienist position and the UW-Extension.

In its current form, the proposed $96 million budget would require a property tax levy of $31.16 million, an increase of 0.6 percent.

The budget will be presented to the full board next week. Supervisors will then have a chance to propose amendments before the board takes final action on the budget in November.

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