County sets the standard for prudent budgeting

WHETHER IT’S THANKS TO state-imposed spending caps or prudent management, local governments across the state are crafting annual budgets with little or no property tax increase these days.

Which reason you choose may depend on your politics – and that means the truth is it’s a combination of the two – but whatever the cause, it’s been welcome news for local property owners.

But while holding the budget line has been a relatively new phenomenon for most units of government, here in Sheboygan County it has been a long-standing practice, at least for Sheboygan County.

While the proposed 2014 county budget shows an increase of 1.8 percent in the property tax levy and 3.5 percent in the property tax rate, the $126 million budget actually cuts county spending by 1.1 percent. The levy and rate hike are the result of the continuing decline in property values – a trend which has reversed itself in the last year or two and which should be reflected in tax figures in the near future.

It also doesn’t take away from the county’s track record, which shows a decrease in the tax levy in four of the last seven years – a record that no other county in the state can match.

That record is a credit to both management and employees of county government, from the top level all the way down.

The county’s payroll costs have increased only 1 percent since 2000 – again, a record unequaled among the state’s counties. That is a combination of privatization of county facilities, staff reductions, consolidations and downsizing, and employees willing to partner with the county to hold the line on costs.

It is difficult for the county, or any government, to hold the line in the budget battle. The demand for government services only increases when the economy turns soft, and there is probably no viable business model that can be conceived for providing many of those services at cost or for a profit.

That’s what makes Sheboygan County’s record in this regard so remarkable.

It has meant real savings for county property taxpayers. Had the county merely followed the statewide average for county property tax levy increases over the past seven years – instead of reducing or making minimal increases in the levy each of those years – county taxpayers would have paid an additional $44 million in total property taxes since 2007.

That’s no small figure, but it is a great achievement by the county.

At issue:
2014 county budget
Bottom line:
Holding the line again

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