The Rock County Board on Tuesday adopted a 2019 county budget that increases overall expenditures by 8.4 percent and drops the tax rate amid rising property values countywide.

As suggested in the preliminary budget, the county’s tax levy will climb by 1.1 percent, or $720,584, and the tax rate will fall by 4.9 percent next year.

The tax levy increase and tax rate decrease come as the county’s equalized value grew by 6.3 percent this year.

The board unanimously approved the budget and increased the administrator’s 2019 expenditures by $45,831 to keep the parks community coordinator position full time. That pushed the county’s overall expenditures to $188.59 million—up $14.7 million from this year.

Board members voted 19-5 to boost the county’s contribution to the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, a nonprofit volunteer group for seniors, by $20,000 by shifting money from the $100,000 contingency fund. That fund will drop to $80,000 next year.

Notable in the 2019 budget is the rise in spending. Rock County Administrator Josh Smith told The Gazette in October a $5.2 million security overhaul at the Rock County Courthouse is largely fueling the increase. That project will last most of 2019 and significantly reconfigure the building’s west-side entrance.

Other funding jumps include overtime costs for the jail and law enforcement services—which are set at $968,231 next year, up by about $412,000 from this year—and an additional $291,000 for new legal support specialists in the district attorney’s office.

Overtime costs for law enforcement and correctional officers have been underbudgeted for years, Smith has said. The 2019 budget anticipates those costs upfront instead of supplementing the difference from other parts of the budget.

Evidence-based decision making—a process that aims to improve the criminal justice system—will see a $322,416 funding bump in 2019 for what Smith called a “diversion program for low-risk offenders.” It’s one of several criminal justice reform initiatives coming out of the Evidence-Based Decision Making Ad Hoc Committee.

“The importance of these programs increases as the jail population approaches capacity, which occurred at several points in 2018 and is expected to continue in 2019,” Smith wrote in his preliminary budget summary.

Next year’s budget sees annual health insurance deductibles increase for Rock County employees across the board—and several board members questioned those costs during Tuesday’s meeting.

Annual deductibles will jump by $100 to $750 for individuals and by $300 to $2,250 for families. Emergency room copays also will rise, and employees will be responsible for all out-of-pocket costs until their deductibles are met.

Smith told The Gazette on Nov. 8 the health care increases are a temporary stop-gap measure to shore up the county’s shrinking health insurance trust account.

The county board will discuss a new health care insurance plan early next year, he said.

Smith told the board Tuesday the county would have to pay about $897,000 if it didn’t increase health insurance deductibles and copays.

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