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St. Croix Board completes budget

The St. Croix County Board has adopted a 2009 budget, but while the tax levy can't change, supervisors were put on notice that at least one department will try to get more money.

Property tax levy limits mandated by the state will result in a mill rate of $3.051 per $1,000 of valuation. That means an owner of a $200,000 house will pay a county tax of about 40 cents more than the owner of a house valued at $200,000 paid this year.

The total property tax levy will be $26.2 million, an increase of $956,777 over this year. The total budget is $80.2 million with the balance of funding coming from revenue generated by various departments, federal and state aids, sales tax, fund surpluses and fines and fees.

"I feel that we really didn't do our homework in highway," said Supervisor Gerald Peterson Nov. 11 as the Board prepared to adopt the budget. Peterson is vice chairman of the Transportation Committee.

He said the department can't keep up with needed work with proposed funding. Peterson and committee Chairman Richard King said they will be asking for a budget amendment at the December meeting of the County Board.

King said extra money for highway work could come from General Fund reserves. That fund is currently at about 29 percent of annual budget and doesn't need to be more than 25 percent of budget, said King.

Finance Committee Chairman Daryl Standafer said the county's financial advisor "stressed with great vigor" the need to preserve fund reserves and maintain liquidity in a declining economy.

Drawing down reserves is risky, warned Supervisor Sharon Norton-Bauman. She pointed out that reserves dropped from 30.7 percent in 2004 to 29.1 percent when the audit was completed at the end of 2007.

Norton-Bauman referred to a letter from the county's financial consultant who cautioned against dipping into reserve funds. Keeping that rate stable has reassured lenders and helped the county maintain its good bond rating, she said.

Here are some of the things in the 2009 budget:

• Money for a new economic support specialist in the Health and Human Services Department.

• Funds for a part-time coordinator to work with senior nutrition sites.

• $391,285 for the 2009 payment on the jail strip search settlement debt, which will be paid off in 2010.

• $945,000 in property tax money to help fund the nursing home. The budget assumes continuing operation at the 72-bed level.

• Flat $520 wage increases for department heads and other managers who aren't union members.

• $80,928 to begin repaying the new debt for repair of the Government Center roof and heating and air conditioning system.

Here are some of the things removed:

• Two jobs in the Health and Human Services Department, not needed as responsibility for providing long term care is privatized.

• Two Planning and Zoning Department jobs that are currently vacant.

• One of the second deputy positions in the Register of Deeds office. Rationale for cutting was a decrease in workload due to slowdown in the real estate market.

• $400,000 was removed from the Highway Department budget as the Finance Committee attempted to balance revenues with expenses.

• Nearly $350,000 was removed from the Sheriff's Department budget. Among the cuts Sheriff Dennis Hillstead offered were leaving open a jailer position in the work-release unit and not replacing an officer who will be serving in Afghanistan in 2009.

• About $300,000 from the capital and maintenance budget.