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County budget proposals include tax hikes, borrowing

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news River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Department budget requests, escalating insurance costs and lagging sales tax income sabotaged the St. Croix County Finance Committee's plan to hold the tax levy increase to the rate of new construction.

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Instead, when the County Board meets for its budget hearing Tuesday, Nov. 10, the committee will recommend a 2010 levy for general operations that is about 3 percent higher than this year's levy. The proposed general operations levy is $25.8 million.

The recommended overall levy -- which includes county aid for bridge construction, debt service and library tax -- is up 4.6 percent. That total overall levy is $27.37 million.

While the Finance Committee had hoped to hold the levy increase to the rate of new construction, as work went on it became painfully obvious that that was "inadvisable," said Chairman Daryl Standafer.

Finance Director Michelle Pietrick reported in October that health insurance costs have climbed even higher than expected. The total increase for employees in all departments will be nearly $640,000.

Recovery bonds

The Finance Committee is suggesting the county claim the full $3.36 million in Recovery Zone Economic Development Bonds for itself and raise the rural library tax levy by about 26 percent.

Finance Committee members met last week to evaluate a list of equipment purchases and building repairs that had been pulled from the main budget to balance it. About $200,000 of those projects, including carpeting and painting and other minor repairs, were restored to the regular budget.

The committee suggests using $1.6 million of its $3.36 million allocation of Recovery Zone bonds to pay for several projects. Those include a new cooling tower for the Government Center air conditioning system, security features at the county nursing home, a boat for the Sheriff's Department, Government Center parking lot repairs, new "enterprise-wide" financial software for all county departments and exterior wall and foundation repairs for the Government Center.

The committee will recommend that the balance of the bond money go to the Highway Department to help it get back on schedule with road upkeep.

Repayment of the interest-subsidized bonds would not begin until 2011.

Library tax

The committee is also suggesting increasing the library tax levy, charged to rural areas that don't have their own libraries, by about 26 percent.

State law requires that the county library levy cover at least 70 percent of the expense of rural patrons using municipal libraries. This year St. Croix's tax covered 71 percent. The Finance Committee recommendation would raise that to 85 percent in 2010.

The intent would be to increase the levy another 15 percent in 2011.

Sales tax

County sales tax revenues may reach this year's budgeted goal of $4.68 million, said Pietrick. Or they may not.

"It's still hit or miss," said Pietrick. She said tax revenue was falling short until September. Higher car sales during the federal "cash for clunkers" program could account for the increase.

UW-Extension, which offers annual projections, estimates St. Croix County 2010 sales tax income at $4.657 million. But county officials are skeptical of that projection and decided instead to anticipate 10 percent less or $4.191 million.

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