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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Oconto County Mill Rate Up 3.1 Percent

In view of higher costs of employment, fuel, insurance, capital projects, and human services costs, and lower or static revenues from timber sales and state/federal funding, the Oconto County Board at a budget hearing on Thursday, Oct. 25 approved a 3.1 percent hike in the county’s mill rate. That represents a 15.2 cent rise in the rate from $4.996 in 2012 to $5.149 for 2013.

The actual property tax levy will rise $197,687 from $17,790,125 in 2012 to $17,987.812 for 2013. That equates to a 1.1 percent increase in the levy. The different percentages of increase are mostly accounted for by the fact that the county’s equalized value fell $66,988,400, from $3.560 billion to $3.493 billion.

To achieve the balanced budget of $42,482,858, the County Board approved using $2,078,671 of Fund Balances, with the Highway Department, Health/Human Services and the County Sales Tax taking most of the hit.

According to Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann, the county is granting a 1 percent wage increase to most employees. When the longevity, or “Step,” increases are added in, this accounts for $149,000 of the $696,156 of the budget increases. One new additional part-time support staff position is also included in the budget, accounting for $34,000.

A controversial charge from the Brown County for about $125,000 was included in both the budget and the tax levy, but it wasn’t clearly defined in the budget materials if the towns and municipalities which accrued the charges would be required to pay back the county.

The largest increase to the tax levy, $412,295, comes from the Sheriff’s Department. Increased labor costs both in the department and in the jail account for most of the hike. A $25,000 error on the budget sheet was not spotted until after the budget was approved, but it will decrease the increase of the levy by the same amount.

Hamann reported a change in the way insurance plans are offered for most county employees have kept the overall health insurance rate to just a 3 percent increase for health and up 5 percent for dental. Employees are given the choice of a high deductable/lower premium plan or a low deductable/higher premium plan. As a result, Oconto County had the lowest rate of increase in this category of any county in the state.

The Highway Department budget anticipates $700,000 of equipment purchases in 2013, which will be funded by their depreciation charges.

Capital projects in the budget amount to $806,000, and will be funded by the county sales tax. The projects include $40,000 to repair the historic courthouse clock tower, $35,000 to replace the courthouse door locking system, $175,000 to replace the air conditioning in building C of the courthouse complex, $160,000 for computer equipment and systems, $185,000 for Forestry equipment, $160,000 for sheriff squad replacements, $26,000 for software programs for the sheriff’s department, and $25,000 for a mobile command vehicle for emergency management.

Prior to passage of the budget by a unanimous vote, County Finance Director Terry Hinds led a specific, detail by detail review of all the budget items.

It was postulated that the 2014 budget would be more difficult to balance and that it will continue to lead to further use of the county’s fund balance to make it work.

In other matters before the County Board, two letters were read, both from the Wisconsin Counties Mutual Insurance Company, acknowledging that the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department and the Oconto Highway Department were accorded Honorable Mention honors when it came the company’s “Best Overall Loss Ratio” summary.

By a resolution vote of 28 to 1, the County Board also adopted a 2013-2017 Capital Improvement Plan. Supervisor Vernon Zoeller, of the Town of Abrams and part of the Town of Pensaukee, voted in the negative. While the Plan does lists is being considered for Capital Projects in the years ahead, the individual components beyond the first year are not written in stone.

A new component of the Capital Improvement Plan this year is the inclusion in the year 2017 of funding through a bond process for a new $25 million Law Enforcement Center. A financial spreadsheet through the year 2037 shows that a potential new jail could be paid by a $2 million payment from the General Fund Balance, a new 25 cent debt levy, and the rest from a sales tax-bond over the next 20 years, although it may require an $8 million balloon payment at the end of the term.

Prior to adjournment, representatives from the Oconto City Fire Department informed the board of a new Fire Prevention trailer, which is available for education use by every fire department and the Sheriff’s Department in the county. The unit, which cost about $100,000 was 95 percent paid for by grants, with only $5000 coming from local sources, all of which were donations. The trailer had a number of high-tech simulation features, and was available for inspection by the County Board after the meeting.


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