Janesville56.8°

County budget pinched by high health care costs

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Mike Heine
October 26, 2007

Union negotiations could play a big role in how the 2008 Walworth County budget shakes out.


The county has earmarked $18.1 million for employee healthcare, $2.7 million more than 2007.


If the seven employee unions and the county board can’t agree to changes in the plan, the county will need to add another $1 million to the account and make $1 million in cuts elsewhere, Finance Director Nicole Anderson said.


“I don’t know that there has been anything looked at other than we know that we’ll have to find it somewhere,” Andersen said after the public budget hearing Thursday night. “I think all options are on the table. I don’t think anything specifically has been targeted.”


The cuts could be in staff, programs, services or projects, Andersen said.


The county can’t add $1 million to its budget without exceeding a self-imposed levy limit. The current budget is about $66,000 below the cap.


The county and its unions are in the start of negotiations, Andersen said. She was unsure when all of the contracts would be finalized.


For every $1 spent on wages, the county will spend 74 cents on fringe benefits, comptroller Jessica Lanser said.


Benefit costs have risen steadily due primarily to escalating health care costs, Andersen said.


Most of the citizens who spoke at Thursday night’s public hearing had a special interest in a cause:


-- Three men asked for more money for the Walworth County Visitors Bureau, and five others spoke in favor of full funding for the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance.


Budget amendments in September proposed cutting $40,000 out of each organization’s budget. The amendments, if passed, would keep the 2007 level of funding at $102,000 for the visitors bureau and halve the proposed $80,000 in spending for the development alliance.


-- Three people asked that a 4-H assistant in the UW Extension office be kept on at 20 hours a week rather than be cut to 10 hours.


-- A woman on the county land trust asked that the county start finding money for parkland acquisition, a move she said residents have favored over and over in surveys. The county has yet to earmark any money for land acquisition.


-- Two speakers asked the county to be tighter with levy dollars.


BUDGET SUMMARY

A look at the 2008 budget for Walworth County:


Total budget


Next year: $159.84 million


This year: $146.76 million


Increase: 8.9%


Tax levy


Next year: $54.70 million


This year: $52.24 million


Increase: 4.7%


Tax rate


(Per $1,000 of assessed valuation)


Next year: $3.90


This year: $4.10


Increase: 4.9%


Note: Percent changes calculated on whole numbers.


WHAT’S NEXT

The Walworth County budget likely will be adopted at the county board’s meeting Tuesday, Nov. 13, in the county board room of the Government Center, 100 W. Walworth St., Elkhorn.


The board will consider budget amendments and citizen comments prior to voting on the budget.



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