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"The economy is tough. The (real estate) market is tough. Why aren't my taxes going down?" St. Croix County Treasurer Cheryl Slind said that's the question she has been hearing ever since property tax bills went out earlier this month. While the market value of many houses probably has dropped, it takes time for the assessment and equalized value processes to catch up, said Slind.
Most St. Croix County administrators and managers won't get a salary raise in 2009. Instead 157 of them will each get a flat $520 lump sum. The 2008 salary grid will carry over to 2009. The lump sum payment will go to those who are at Step 7, the top of their pay grade. The 21 employees who aren't at the top of their pay grades will get their scheduled step increase. As Finance Committee members struggled to prepare a balanced 2009 budget and asked departments to look for every spending cut they could find, the issue of pay increases came up.
The goal of the experiment was to determine if local public records are truly accessible to ordinary citizens. Thirty-eight UW-River Falls students who took part in an open records audit learned the answer is nearly always yes. But that doesn't mean all area officials give up the information graciously. "The hardest part was having to deal with authority figures," said Assistant Professor Andris Straumanis, one of two UW-RF instructors who teach the Journalism 201 course on information gathering.
Enough St. Croix County union employees signed up for high-deductible health insurance to allow the county to fluff up its contingency fund by $132,000 and to help sidetrack a Transportation Committee demand for more money. The county offered a health reimbursement account plan for employees who chose the high-deductible option. While the deductible is higher and thus the premium lower, in 2009 the county will set aside $1,400 per employee to cover deductibles.
Grant money for cellular 911 services will help St. Croix County establish a mass notification system and buy a program to update computerized maps. Four years ago the Wisconsin Legislature authorized the Public Service Commission to begin collecting a monthly fee from cell phone users.
It's too late to pursue legal action for possible faulty design or careless workmanship that may have led to water damage in the walls of the St. Croix County Government Center. Instead Finance Committee members agreed last week to follow a gentler course and ask the design and construction companies to help fix the damage.
A collection clerk is making a dent in delinquent court fines and, just as important, encouraging defendants to pay current fines, reports St. Croix County Clerk of Court Lori Meyer. For the first nine months of 2008, net revenue from the position was nearly $139,000, said Meyer. "Looks like we did something right," said County Board member Buck Malick, commenting on the decision to add the clerk.
St. Croix residents voted nearly 2-1 to continue using tax dollars to support the county-owned nursing home, but County Board members are divided on exactly what that vote means. The tally last week was 27,425 to 14,765 in favor of operating the nursing home using property tax money. The 2009 budget calls for tax levy support of $1 million. The question carried with at least 57 percent of the vote in every municipality, said Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting. Highest rates of yes votes were in the New Richmond area and the northern tier of towns.
Disappointment and annoyance are good words to describe St. Croix County Board members' reaction to a referendum that will eliminate more than a third of their positions. Last week county residents voted 31,460 to 9,358 -- better than three to one -- to cut the number of supervisors on the board from 31 to 19. The county has until Nov.
Contractors preparing to replace the roof on the St. Croix County Government Center got a nasty surprise -- the walls are deteriorating too. If the problems continue around the building, repair costs could be about $750,000, guessed Facilities Manager Art Tobin. An engineer who examined the building said the leaking may be due to improper design or to poor workmanship.