State budget 'not too bad' for county, Payne says

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – County Administrator Adam Payne summed up Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed biennial state budget for the County Board Tuesday in three words - “Not too bad.”

Payne gave his annual “State of the County” address and outlined the impact of the proposed 2013-15 state budget, which still faces legislative action.

While Payne conceded that the Walker budget is better for the county than past state budgets, he did have a few caveats.

The budget would maintain funding levels for many local programs, including transportation and youth aids, and has slight increases in some areas like mental health programs and state highway maintenance provided by counties, Payne told the supervisors.

But the budget keeps in place the freeze on local tax levy, with the only increase allowed the amount of net new local construction in the prior year.

“Frankly, I think the state is encouraging local units of government like Sheboygan County to develop and/or rely on their own revenue sources other than the property tax,” Payne commented.

That could include a county half-percent sales tax, he stated. Sheboygan County is one of only seven counties among the state’s 72 counties that has yet to adopt the county sales tax.

“I share your pride that we are one of the few counties,” that have not adopted the county sales tax, Payne told the board. “That is a strong ace up our sleeve in terms of our fiscal health.”

Payne predicted that the county will not be able to hold the line on the property tax levy in the 2014 county budget, but will have to utilize the option to increase the levy by the amount of net new construction.

“I’m anticipating we’re going to have to capture,” that increase, Payne told the board. “I don’t think we’re going to have a property tax reduction, but obviously that’s your decision, not mine.”

He emphasized that the county has reduced the property tax levy four of the last six years and that the property tax rate has decreased in nine of the last 12 years.

“We have an outstanding financial track record, a healthy fund balance, an excellent bond rating and I think we continue to provide quality programs and services,” Payne stated.

He pointed out that, if the county had raised its tax levy the same as the statewide average for counties each year since 2007, county taxpayers would have paid an additional $37 million in property taxes over that period.

The board approved three more labor contracts, with the supportive services, health care registered nurses, and public health nurses and community program employees unions.

Each of the agreements was for the year 2013 and each granted a 2 percent raise to employees.

Payne and County Board Chairman Roger TeStroete presented retired Sheboygan County Historical Society Executive Director Robert Harker with a plaque commemorating his 22 years in that position.

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