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Sauk County committee to hear budget requests

September 26, 2018

Sauk County Human Services Department Director Daniel Brattset presents his agency's budget request in this September 2017 file photo.

An oversight committee will review spending requests during a series of meetings this week as Sauk County budget discussions ramp up.

The Sauk County Board’s Finance Committee is slated to hear from department managers Thursday and Friday. It will consider possible adjustments in early October before it submits a final budget proposal for the board to consider in November.

In its current state, the proposed 2019 budget includes $96 million in total spending, a 1.92 percent increase from what was budgeted for this year.

Local property taxes are the county’s largest revenue source, funding about one-third of all expenses.

Sauk County Accounting Department figures show state-imposed limits will allow the county to increase its property tax levy by 0.6 percent in 2019, to $31.16 million.

Department levy requests currently total $31.25 million. That means the five-member Finance Committee will have to shave nearly $90,000 from levy requests to bring the budget within the state’s limits.

Finance Committee Chairman John Dietz of Rock Springs said he’s not exactly sure how that will shake out, and wants to wait and hear from departments before he arrives at any conclusions.

“I don’t know,” Dietz said. “I’ve got 426 pages to go through.”

One of the first presenters Thursday morning will be the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office, which utilizes the largest portion of property tax levy, about $12 million. The sheriff’s office has requested a 3 percent increase in its levy use for 2019.

Dietz said there likely will be some discussion about the office’s projected income from renting jail beds to outside agencies. That budget line — and the office’s method of calculating it — has been controversial in prior years.

Thursday afternoon’s budget presentations are slated to include the Sauk County Human Services Department, the second-largest in terms of tax levy use at nearly $8 million. That department has requested no tax levy increase for 2019.

Reserve funds discussed

As officials get deeper into budget conversations, one point of focus may be the amount of proposed spending from the county’s robust reserve fund.

During the board’s monthly meeting last week, Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin fielded questions from supervisors about the proposed use of fund balance in 2019. She said department requests from that pot currently total $6.7 million.

At this stage in the budget process last year, departments had requested $4.5 million from fund balance, county documents show. That figure grew to $4.8 million by the time the budget was approved.

“I believe that we are in a good place to balance the budget successfully,” Kleczek Bolin said Tuesday, adding that this is only her second year with the budgeting process. “However, it is hard for me to compare prior years.”

Among other needs, she said, the budget continues to provide funding to combat the opioid epidemic and to meet the needs of the county’s aging population.

Despite budgeting to spend from its reserves in prior years, the county generally has ended with a surplus and instead added to its savings.

This month, an outside auditor told Finance Committee members the county’s reserve fund is unusually large and growing. Her report listed a general fund balance of $40.9 million, of which $39.4 million is unrestricted.

That’s more than five times the amount recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association.

The GFOA recommends government entities similar to Sauk County maintain an unrestricted fund balance equal to 17 percent of operational expenditures. Sauk County’s is 112 percent, according to the auditor’s report.

Officials say maintaining a healthy reserve fund allows the county to maintain a favorable bond rating and weather financial storms.

Sauk County Board Chairman Peter Vedro of Baraboo said departments have been encouraged to budget for needs and wants, before applying artificial restraints.

“Once we have concrete information of what the revenue picture is, we will be able to modify projections to meet as many objectives as possible within a balanced budget,” he said.

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