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“We are on track to have our lowest recorded tax rate ever in 2024,” St. Croix County Administrator Ken Witt wrote in his budget summary for the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors. The county is just six cents higher than its lowest recorded mill rate in the last 50 years, which was $3.02 in 2007. 

March: Committee of the Whole reviews budget priorities with department heads.

May: Capital Project requests to finance director. The Capital Improvement Plan team starts review. County board adopts budget priorities.

June: Capital Improvement Plan team recommends capital projects to county administrator, reviews Capital Improvement Plan at standing committees.

July: Departments start working on operating budget request. Committee of the whole on Capital Improvement Plan.

August: County administrator, finance director, department heads meet to review operating budget requests.

September: Standing committee review of operating budget requests.

October: Committee of the Whole review of the county administrator recommended budget.

November: Public hearing on budget and approval of tax levy.

For the last 10 years, the county has been decreasing the tax rate. 

The mill rate was about $3.11 in 2022 and is set to be $3.08 in 2023. 

The 2023 property tax levy is $43,683,274, a 15.84% increase from the 2022 property tax levy. However the 2023 mill rate, or the amount of tax payable per dollar of the assessed value of a property, is 1% lower than the 2022 mill rate.  

At its Tuesday, Nov. 1, meeting, the board approved the 2023 budget and a $43,683,769.40 levy. 

“Estimates show our population increased to 93,684 residents, making St. Croix County the fastest growing county in the state of Wisconsin over the past five years,” Witt wrote.

“St. Croix County has the eighth lowest levy rate in the state,” he continued. “These statistics are important as we look at service delivery demands and expectations.” 

In May, the board approved its 2023 budget priorities to help guide the 2023 budget planning which include: 

  • Structural deficit: ARPA dollars, an unbudgeted 1% cost of living adjustment and compression adjustments created a structural deficit of about $750,000. 

  • Compensation increases for employees: provide for a step and 3% cost of living adjustment. 

  • Health insurance: 1.4% increase with small increase to deductible. 

  • New positions: net change of .315 full time employees and added $61,000 in budget. 

  • Operating expenses: cover required expense increases. Some departments had significant inflation pressure.

Some of the biggest adjustments include correcting the structural deficit created through the use of pandemic recovery funds for law enforcement in 2022 and the additional 1% wage grid adjustment.  

“The largest new revenue source for 2023 was a $1.5 million increase in our projected sales tax revenue,” Witt said. “We have experienced substantial growth over the past couple of years that have allowed for this larger than normal increase.” 

The county budgeted below state estimates to “recession proof” the budget and to allow for fund balance accumulation to assist in the Capital Improvement Plan. 

With all of that said, to keep up with inflation and growth, the tax levy rate was “inadequate.” The debt levy is increasing as a result of the $80 million government center expansion, but that amount is offset, Witt wrote, by the growth in the county. 

Government Center Expansion

The project is underway to expand the St. Croix County Government Center. The third bid packet has been sent out, which includes seeking bids on a number of the materials required for the project. The second bid packet was primarily for the structure that will house secure parking for the judges and the sheriff. Those bids came in under budget. 

Matching existing materials as much as possible was a priority for this project. A near match brick will be used by the same company who provided the brick for the original 1991 plans of the current building. 

The plans for the exterior of the building have been planned significantly and the design team will now be moving full steam ahead into creating renderings and plans for the inside of the building. A video model was played for the county board and can be viewed on the River Channel’s recording of the meeting. 

All bids should be out and received by the end of March 2023. 

The first cost estimate for the project was done in July and came in at about $94.2 million.

The $80 million expansion plan was approved by the county board in March and bonds were pursued.

However, in September the estimate came down to $83.8 million. Another update to the estimate will be done in December. 

It’s an ebb and flow. The presenter on the financial information for the project compared it to a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, but the goal is to come out right where we started, in terms of the estimated price tag. 

Though the current estimate is about $4 million over budget, the county will receive $2-3 million in interest earnings on the borrowed money, which is sitting in investments which can go toward the project. Additionally, the board recently put $7 million of pandemic recovery funds into the the Capital Improvement Project fund. The remaining $1-2 million would come from there. 

“I fully believe that we have the resources in place to finish this project,” Ken Witt said. 

Staff is expected to be relocated into the addition in July 2024. 

  • District 19 representative Tim Ramberg commended the committee that worked on the zoning code for the simplification of some of the application processes. The board approved the numerous updates to its zoning ordinance, which included a number of clarifications and revisions. 

  • Facilities Director Jim Elsbury was congratulated on his retirement after 10 years of service to St. Croix County and decades of service in Wisconsin.

  • “Our library is going into the next year with a $200,000 deficit,” Hudson Area Library Director Shelley Tougas told the board during public comment. She also thanked them for their continued support in finding a solution to the ongoing funding issue as well as their commitment to fact finding before making decisions. 

  • The board adjusted the library levy to account for a few more hotspots. The additional $8,706 helps provide that service while the county continues to address broadband access across its communities.  

  • “So library funding. It’s as complicated as the Dewey Decimal System,” County Administrator Ken Witt said. “Little library joke for you there. Not often you get to use those.”  

Comprehensive Plan update

The Community Development department staff are updating the 2012-2035 Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2012, and are opening up community discussions to help do so. 

Public vision sessions are scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m., at the Hudson Government Center board room, 1101 Carmichael Road, Hudson; and Thursday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m., at Baldwin Highway Shop, room A-B. 

The recent release of the 2020 census demographics will be incorporated into the plan and the 10-year update. There are ten main points that are incorporated into the plan, per the state requirements, and will be reviewed. They include issues and opportunities; land use; agricultural, natural and cultural resources; transportation; housing; economic development; utilities and community facilities; intergovernmental cooperation; and implementation. 

The goal is not to completely rewrite the plan, but rather use new information to inform updates. “Demographics and historic data for each element of the plan will be updated and analyzed for trends and impacts and the goals, objectives and policies updated accordingly,” states the memorandum presented to the board. “The land use, agriculture, natural resources and transportation sections will have additional analysis including review and incorporation of

other municipal plans, as required by the state planning law.” 

A survey will also be sent out to include a statistically valid, random sample for public opinion. 

Planning the updates began in August and will continue through March. 

District attorney update

St. Croix County District Attorney Karl Anderson presented the board with an update, highlighting the severity of the department's lack of staff. 

As state employees, Wisconsin has been struggling to fill its vacant prosecutor positions in St. Croix County. 

“According to the state, we should have ten and a half prosecutors,” Anderson said. “Currently we have six and a half. That was based on 2019 numbers when we had two homicides pending. We now have 10 homicides pending.” 

Since Anderson started in the district six years ago, all seven prosecutor positions have turned over and some more than once. Every time an attorney has left under Anderson is was because of pay and workload. The county is not in a unique position, as many Wisconsin counties are bracing the same impact. 

“Hopefully the legislature will come through, something’s got to give,” Anderson said. “It’s not sustainable state wide.”

As of Oct. 18, St. Croix County had 1,652 defendants charged with crimes. 

“At any given time we have about 2,500 to 3,000 cases pending. Each prosecutor has hundreds of cases pending at a time,” Anderson said.

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