Walworth County’s spending could shrink by almost 25 percent next year under the preliminary 2019 budget.
County Administrator Dave Bretl is proposing a 23.7 percent spending reduction next year. That would drop spending by about $49 million, lower the tax levy and tax rate, and pull the county’s budget back to its “status quo,” he said.
Overall expenses are about $157 million in the 2019 proposed budget. That’s similar to the county’s 2016 and 2017 budgets, which were about $152 million and $159 million, respectively.
The proposed 2019 budget is noticeably different from this year’s budget, in which overall expenses are about $206 million. Bretl said this year’s surge in spending largely came from new construction and paying off debt, and he said the county had accrued savings to foot those bills.
Among this year’s projects was a $24 million health and human services building, which broke ground in September, and $9.1 million to pay off debt. The county ended all debt-service payments and became debt free when it made its final payment in March.
The new building and debt payments accounted for about $33.1 million last year that will not be budgeted this year. That still leaves about $15.7 million more in this year’s budget than in the 2019 budget. Bretl said he wasn’t sure how that was spent, but it was likely spread out among capital projects.
Bretl’s preliminary budget also projects a decrease in the tax levy—partly because there are no debt payments—and a decline in the tax rate.
The levy is expected to drop by 2.77 percent, meaning the county will collect about $1.68 million less in overall property taxes. A sizable chunk of that reduction comes from the county’s elimination of debt service, which accounted for about $906,000 of this year’s tax levy.
Bretl’s proposed budget also expects the county’s tax rate to drop by about 7.3 percent, with a rate of about $4.02 per $1,000 of equalized value. That means the county would take in about $402 on a home valued at $100,000.
The county’s equalized value—the overall value of the county’s taxable properties—increased for the fifth year in a row this year, Bretl said. That increase, which was about 5 percent, is factored into the county’s cut in the tax rate.
When equalized value increases, the tax rate decreases because property values are higher. So the combination of increased equalized value and a tax levy cut results in a larger decrease in the overall tax rate.
The proposed tax levy and rates are countywide averages. Each will vary depending on a municipality’s own tax levy and rate.
Some areas of the county will not see the same decrease in the tax levy. Areas not served by the Children with Disabilities Education Board—which accounts for about $6.08 million of the tax levy—and areas exempt from the library tax will see a different decrease, according to Bretl’s budget.
The proposed budget was first presented to the Walworth County Board on Sept. 4, and the finance committee advanced the budget with few changes Sept. 13 The county will hold a public hearing Oct. 29, and the board will vote Nov. 5.