County budget numbers add up right again

THE FUNNY THING ABOUT numbers is they can be pretty flexible – you can stretch them to fit any picture you want to paint, to mix a metaphor.

But in many cases, it’s the numbers on the bottom line that count the most.

That was true once again for the 2015 Sheboygan County budget adopted by the County Board earlier this month.

Despite a nearly 2 percent decrease in total spending in the $125 million budget, the property tax levy increased by 1.22 percent – the maximum allowed under state-mandated limits. That means an increase in the property tax rate of four cents – less than one percent – or an additional $4 in county taxes paid on a $100,000 home.

All in all, that’s a pretty good result while still providing the essential government services – good roads, law enforcement and the rest – that citizens want from their county government.

When you look beyond just one year’s budget, however, the picture – and the numbers – look even better.

Over the past decade or so, the county has decreased spending by almost $30 million - $13 million of that in payroll costs alone. And the property tax rate has declined from $6.28 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2005 to $5.64 in 2015, a drop of more than 10 percent.

Very few things we pay for have dropped 10 percent in price over that period, especially staples like food and gas.

Yet one supervisor, Fay Uraynar, took umbrage with county officials touting that number as a measure of their budgeting success.

Uraynar contended that, despite the declining tax rate, many taxpayers are paying a larger total county property tax bill now than they did in 2005

– and in many cases, she may well be right.

Because for many property owners, the value of their property – whether through improvements they’ve made or just inflation – has increased more than 10 percent over that same period, negating the effect of the declining property tax rate.

We’d guess that’s a tradeoff most homeowners would gladly make. Their home is probably the biggest investment in their lives, and an increase in its value is what they would hope for – even it means a slightly larger tax bill.

Uraynar also contended that the county does a disservice by computing how much taxes have not gone up in Sheboygan County over that period compared to all other counties in the state.

She apparently feels that the county should only compare itself to other comparable counties and she may be right, but it’s still likely that, even by that measure, Sheboygan County’s numbers still look good.

County officials at all levels and in all departments have done admirable work over the past decade or more controlling spending while continuing to provide quality service to all their constituents. Those are numbers that add up to a rosy picture – to keep that mixed metaphor going.

At issue:
2015 county budget
Bottom line:
Good news for taxpayers

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