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St. Croix supervisors share the pain

The full St. Croix County Board buckled down to budget work Tuesday as supervisors heard nearly five hours of proposals from 29 county departments.

The bottom line is that with less than two months to go, the board must cut $2.5 million from budget requests to stay within its state-mandated cap on the property tax levy.

"What the board needs to decide is what it is willing to fund and what it is not willing to fund," urged Finance Committee Chairman Daryl Standafer. "Let's face it, we can't have everything."

While the county budget gets significant support from other sources, including the local sales tax and the state, at this point department budget requests would require $27.6 million from the county property tax. Under state rules, the county can levy $25.1 million.

These departments use the largest shares of the property tax: Human Services, 23.46 percent ($6.5 million); Highway Department, 14 percent ($3.9 million); Sheriff's Department, 12.3 percent ($3.4 million); debt service, 10 percent ($2.8 million); Emergency Communications Center, 7.15 percent ($2 million); and nursing home, 4.3 percent ($1.2 million).

Although there was little discussion after the presentations ended shortly before 3 p.m., a couple of supervisors did toss out ideas.

Supervisor Buck Malick wondered if board members would consider cutting work hours, and consequently pay, for employees.

He suggested a possible 35-hour work week resulting in "less pay for less hours with obvious cutbacks in service."

Supervisor Sharon Norton-Bauman, a member of the Finance Committee, said some employers have looked at work weeks of four 10-hour days, but she wouldn't support that.

Fewer but longer work days do result in some savings for heating and cooling buildings, but there would be no significant savings on salaries, said Malick.

"What we're seeking is what does this board value? Where do you want us to go?" Standafer asked.

He suggested supervisors go through the indexed book of budget proposals and set priorities as high, medium or low.

"If we can't do everything... we need to decide what it is that we can't do," said Standafer.

Here are highlights of some of the larger budgets:

  • Emergency Communications Director Casey Swetlik asked for an 8.19 percent increase. His department added three workers this year, one in April, one in May and one in June. Since the three were added mid-year, the 2008 budget doesn't cover full-year salaries for them.

    Having the three new workers on the payroll for a full year will add $97,000 to the communications budget.

    Swetlik also said his department will lose $35,000 in funding next year when the wireless 911 grant ends.

  • The county nursing home, which will be the subject of November referendum, is expected to require a $1.2 million property tax levy in 2009. The levy this year was $260,000 -- partially because unspent tax money from previous years was carried over.
  • As Wisconsin implements long-term care reform and much of that work is turned over to private providers, the Human Services budget will drop significantly. Still that department is asking for about $7 million from the property tax levy.
  • Sheriff Dennis Hillstead is proposing a 4.45 percent increase for his department. He said the higher cost of gasoline makes it impossible to hold operating expenses at last year's level.

    Hillstead also wants one more office staff position to do transcription, thus freeing up deputies for patrol work.

    "The number of sworn officers in the Sheriff's Department has not increased in three years, last year one sworn position was eliminated, along with a $540,000 reduction in my requested budget," said Hillstead. "During this same three-year period of time the county population increased by approximately 7,000 people."

    Hillstead said along with providing coverage for the rural areas and some coverage for villages, the department provides backup and support for all other departments and is the primary drug enforcement agency and the only department with a SWAT team.

    "We are stretched as thin as we can be and still be able to respond to the public when they call," said the sheriff.

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