In a year when COVID-19 is causing government budget gaps, Rock County’s fiscal outlook, thanks in part to a growing rainy-day fund, appear in good shape.
Under the proposed 2021 county budget, spending would grow 8.8% in large part because of bigger paybacks on loans and a slew of projects to county facilities and roads.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith on Thursday presented the county board its first look at the upcoming budget, which is on pace to be finalized in mid-November. It forecasts an increase in spending of $17 million.
Continued upward bumps in county property values would support an expected $2 million levy increase. Under the proposed budget, residents might shell out about $16.40 more on their next county tax bill.
The spending increase is mainly tied to a 116% spike in spending on county facilities, a $7.6 million jump in county loan repayments and $5.2 million for road resurfacing projects on County A, County F and County K.
Altogether, those items account for about 20% of Smith’s proposed $212 million budget.
The county aims to borrow $22 million for facilities work in 2021 as it is set to pay off $8.7 million in existing debt. Two big projects include an $11 million project to relocate the county’s IT center and upgrade IT equipment there and at the county’s 911 center.
Smith said that while that increase in spending in those specific categories “might appear significant,” he pointed out that a continued rising tide in property values has taken the edge off the tax increase the average resident could see.
And he said the county should see a small decrease in spending on operations—by far the biggest portion of the budget.
That’s projected even as Smith proposes to use new public utility shared revenue from the new Alliant Energy power plant in the town of Beloit to boost wages and hire a new training employee at the county’s 911 communications center. The move is a strategy to reverse a recent trend of worker turnover at the 911 center.
The 911 center ranks lower on pay than a number of other similar countywide agencies in the region, the county has reported.
Smith said the county would receive about $1.08 million in shared revenue from the Alliant expansion, the first such payout the county will see since the power utility completed its expansion earlier this year.
That money can be spent any way the county chooses. Smith proposes the county spend $247,000 on “workforce needs” at the 911 center, including increased wages and a new “training and quality assurance manager” position.
Smith said that unlike other municipal or county governments in the region, Rock County is projecting a slight uptick in federal and state shared revenue, a source that fuels about one-third of the county’s overall revenue.
Smith noted, however, that some federal and state funds might ultimately not be available to the county in large part because of the economic effects of the pandemic.
But he said the county has $9 million in unassigned general funds—rainy day cash—built up since 2014 in case the county faces revenue shortfalls driven by the pandemic.