County Board approves 2014 levy

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a property-tax levy of $25.1 million and moved the county closer to construction of a new Highway Department shop.

The levy was approved as proposed by the County Board’s Finance Committee, after supervisors rejected several amendments that would have cut spending, mostly on parks projects.

The countywide tax rate for 2014 will be 4.2655 mills, meaning the owner of a home assessed at $100,000 will pay $426.55 in county property taxes.

Some residents will pay slightly more for library and health services that are provided and billed only in some communities. Including those charges, the levy will be just over $27 million.

Supervisors on Tuesday also approved initial stages of bonding for the new Highway Department shop, which will replace the landlocked facility south of Puerner Street in Jefferson. Total project costs, including construction of two satellite facilities, are expected to exceed $17 million.

The new highway shop will be built on the site of the old Countryside Home on County Highway W on the southwest side of Jefferson. It will include garages, repair facilities, salt storage, a truck wash and offices.

County Board Chairman John Molinaro said demolition of the old Countryside Home would be finished by January.

After several years of debate, the new highway shop is “pretty much a done deal,” he said. The county will begin issuing bonds next month and will hire a construction supervisor to oversee the project, he said.

Most amendments rejected

Supervisors approved one budget amendment, for $1 million in additional bonding for the highway-shop project. This provision will allow the county to pay itself back for costs of demolishing the old Countryside Home. That money will then be used to tear down the old highway shop on Puerner Street. That site will be sold.

Otherwise, all the amendments weighed Tuesday were rejected. The board voted down a proposal by Supervisor Jim Schroeder to authorize $3 million in extra bonding authority for construction of a Waterloo-to-Oconomowoc bicycle trail. The trail, as yet unapproved, would cost $15 million, $12 million of which could be paid by state and federal grants.

Supervisor Richard Jones, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the bike trail was a worthy project, but he argued against weighing down the highway-shop bond issue with unrelated spending.

Supervisor George Jaeckel proposed cutting $55,000 from the Parks Department budget — $40,000 for a ski-trail groomer and $15,000 for a utility vehicle. He proposed shifting the money to the Sheriff’s Department. That plan, too, was rejected by the board.

Supervisor Greg Torres brought forth four amendments: to defund the farmland preservation program ($85,000); to eliminate a proposed $10,000 disc-golf course at Carlin Weld Park; to remove $45,000 in spending for parks equipment; and to eliminate construction of a $13,000 well at Garman Nature Preserve in Waterloo.

“If we’re truly in the dire straits that we’re told we’re in,” the money allotted to those items should be put in the general fund instead, Torres said.

Supervisor Glen Borland, chairman of the Parks Committee, said the county should be striving to increase the variety of recreational opportunity in the parks, especially for young people.

“Kids can only run the trails and look around for so long before they start looking for something else to do,” Borland said. He and other supervisors said parks were an asset for economic development.

The board rejected all of Torres’ amendments, with Torres himself voting against his own amendment on the Garman Nature Preserve well after hearing arguments on why the well was needed.

Limits on tax levy

Under state law, the county is allowed to increase its levy by no more than the value of new construction over the past year. For Jefferson County, this amount for the new budget was just 0.6 percent, or $155,000.

Molinaro said it was becoming increasingly difficult to live within the levy limit.

“We’re at the mercy of inflation like everyone else,” he said. Already, the county has had to cut back on maintenance projects such as highway resurfacing, which will have to be dealt with in the long run, he added.

Jefferson County employs more than 550 people. Its major services include the Sheriff’s Department and jail, health and social services, road construction and maintenance, administration of the courts, and parks.

Overall county spending in the 2014 budget is $84.3 million, including the bond issue for the highway shop. In addition to the tax levy, county government is funded by the county sales tax of 0.5 percent, fees, fines, and state and federal money.