Wisconsin counties could see a slate of funding increases over the next two years, including $15 million for child welfare, more levy limit flexibility and a 10 percent spike in transportation aid.
Gov. Tony Evers proposed the funding hikes last week in his 2019-21 budget. Rock County Administrator Josh Smith and local government associations applauded the suggested increases, saying the boost in funding could ease financial strains facing counties and municipalities.
Republican leaders swiftly pushed back on the proposed budget and panned it for taxing and spending too much. The Legislature is expected to heavily amend the budget in the coming months before sending it back to Evers for approval.
Under Evers’ proposed budget, counties and municipalities could raise their levies by 2 percent regardless of new development. Local governments currently may raise their levies from the previous year only by the percentage increase in equalized value from net new construction.
Smith said Rock County’s levy has increased less than 2 percent each year in the past five years. The levy grew by less than 1 percent in two of those years and swelled by 1.1 percent from 2018 to 2019.
Smith said the proposal ultimately would give the county more flexibility. He estimates the county’s levy might jump by $200,000 to $300,000 next year if it grew by 2 percent.
Counties and municipalities also would get a 10 percent spike in transportation aid in the proposed budget to offset the costs of road projects. Rock County currently receives about $2.3 million annually in state transportation aid.
Smith said road construction is expected to cost about $23 million over five years. It’s unknown how much Evers’ proposed increase will add because the funding formula is complicated, Smith said, but it could be a few hundred thousand dollars.
Smith argued that the most significant funding proposal in Evers’ budget might be a $15 million hike in the Children and Family Aids allocation.
Counties use the allocation broadly to fund child welfare programs, including out-of-home placements for children who have been removed from their home due to drug use or neglect. According to Evers’ budget brief, out-of-home placements for children statewide grew by 28.5 percent between 2012 and 2018.
In Rock County, Smith said Child Protective Services caseworkers are inundated with out-of-home placement cases and that resources are stretched thin. More state funding would allow the county to hire more staff, reduce caseloads and improve child care, Smith said.
Smith said counties previously matched the state’s Children and Family Aids allocation funding by 10 percent. But state aid has been stagnant, Smith said, so counties are now over-matching the state by covering 1,600 percent of the costs.
The county wouldn’t provide less funding for child welfare as a result of boosted state aid. But the increase would alleviate some of the county’s burden because the state’s contribution would grow, Smith said.
In a statement last week, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities praised Evers’ proposed budget, saying it “will protect critical local services.”
“On behalf of the places where Wisconsin residents live and work, we thank Governor Evers for this strong statement of support,” Executive Director Jerry Deschane said. “From levy limits that allow local governments to stay in step with the local economy to plugging potholes and plugging Dark Store loopholes, this is truly a pro-local government budget.”