Not much wiggle room in county budget

Ben Wehmeier

Ben Wehmeier

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

Jefferson County supervisors got their first look Tuesday at a $73.3 million budget for 2015 that boosts spending about 1 percent while aiming to provide more clarity about where that money goes.

County Administrator Ben Wehmeier said the document’s new design supplements columns of numbers with graphic and narrative elements that show how the county is faring in a tight fiscal environment.

The budget’s operating levy is rising by $218,000 to reflect new construction in the county. In addition, a robust increase of 5.2 percent in anticipated sales tax revenue will add $275,665 to county coffers.

Overall, however, the budget is tight. It reflects a 2 percent reduction in non-wage spending by each department and a new, low-deductible health care plan in which county employees will pay a portion of their insurance premiums.

The Personal Care Program in the Health Department also will be eliminated, leaving about 130 clients to find services elsewhere.

Debt service for building the new Highway Department shop on County Highway W will add about $30 to the typical property-tax bill for 2015.

A public hearing on the budget is set for Oct. 28. Members of the County Board are asked to submit any amendments in writing for thorough review, and Wehmeier hopes to gain final approval of the budget by Nov. 12.

County Board Chairman Jim Schroeder told reporters before the meeting that he will appoint a task force early next year to take a “30,000-foot” view of all the county’s operations. The process, which will be open to the public, will look at possible program cuts, efficiencies and sharing of services with other governments, Schroeder said.

Wehmeier told the County Board that he wants to “plan for the future and soften the blow” if the next state budget, due July 1, makes cuts in shared revenue. The county is in a good position to weather any setbacks because of its “very strong financial position,” including a small debt load, he said.

County Human Resources Director Terri Palm outlined the new health insurance plan, which includes a $500 deductible for single employees and $1,000 for families. The plan also will continue existing co-pays for prescriptions.

County employees will be offered Health Savings Accounts, which allow them to deposit money tax-free to use for co-pays and non-covered medical expenses.

In another development Tuesday, supervisors received the resignation of Kate Vance, who had represented District 24 in the far southern part of Jefferson County. The district consists mainly of housing for University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students, both in residence halls and off-campus apartments.

Vance, who was elected in April, and her family are moving out of the district.

Schroeder will name a successor to Vance, subject to board approval, unless supervisors vote to hold a special election for the seat. The new board member’s term will run through April 2016.

Schroeder said he is seeking someone who knows the political process, has good people skills, and can “make decisions on the merits of the issue.” County supervisors are elected on a nonpartisan basis.

The position pays $110 a month plus $55 per meeting and mileage reimbursement. The new supervisor will attend meetings of the full board and at least one committee, Schroeder said.

“It’s really not a job, it’s public service,” he added.

In other business Tuesday, the board:

• Approved a civil service ordinance that requires sheriff’s deputies to put in at least six years of service, rather than five, to be promoted to sergeant.

• Received news of $5 million in state and federal grants to upgrade the freight rail line between Watertown and Madison. The grants were secured by the Wisconsin River Rail Transit Commission, which the county recently joined.

• Approved a contract with Echo, up to $303,743, as the vendor for an electronic health records system in the Human Services Department.


Whitewater council gets 2015 budget

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

City Manager Cameron Clapper delivered a lean 2015 budget to the Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday, with the draft document calling for a spending increase of just over 1 percent.

Clapper’s budget would spend $9,472,401 to fund city operations ranging from law enforcement to parks and recreation. About a third of that money would come from property taxes, with rest coming from state shared revenue, fines and fees, and other sources.

The budget must be reviewed and approved by the Common Council. Meetings are set for Oct. 21 and 28, Nov. 6 and Nov. 11. The budget is expected to gain final approval at the council’s regular meeting on Nov. 18 after a public hearing.

The property-tax levy for operations will rise just over 1 percent to $2,499,974. Under state law, the operations levy for 2015 can rise by no more than the amount of net new construction in the city for 2014.

The tax levy for debt service will rise by $28,222, to $571,760.

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, whose campus is exempt from property taxes, will help out the city in other ways. The university will pay the city $169,553 in 2015 to participate in a police dispatch system that allows data to be shared quickly among city police, campus police and area sheriff’s departments.

UWW also will pay $361,850 to compensate the city for services delivered to the campus. This amount is up $5,905 from 2014.

The budget sets aside $87,000 for possible employee raises next year. Any raises will be distributed after a wage study is completed, Clapper said.

In his budget document, the city manager thanked department heads for their “diligent efforts” to maintain “very modest and responsible” spending plans for 2015.

The city budget, along with budgets for water service and water-treatment facilities, is available at the city’s Web site,, under the Finance Department tab.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

• Received a report on the Police Department’s new Cadet Program. Officer Jim Elder said the department will recruit 12 cadets from UW-Whitewater and other area schools to learn about law enforcement.

The volunteer cadets will assist with traffic control, ride along with officers and receive training in police procedures.

Elder said 26 criminal-justice students had applied so far for the 12 positions.

“This program will help us recruit some good candidates for officers,” Elder told the council. “It will allow these people to get exposure to the law-enforcement profession before they go to the police academy.”

• Heard from two top officials of the Whitewater Unified School District urging voter approval of a spending referendum Nov. 4.

District Administrator Eric Ruñez and Business Manager Nathan Jaeger noted that the referendum, if approved, would not affect the current tax levy for schools. The proposal would raise $1.2 million a year for four years, but it would replace a $600,000 operating referendum and a $600,000 project levy that are both expiring.

Spending by the district has leveled off since 2010, and employees are paying more toward health care and pensions. Money from the referendum would provide stable class sizes, student support services, new technology and maintenance, the WUSD officials said.

• Gave preliminary approval to a tree-cutting ordinance from Councilmember Ken Kidd.

The ordinance allows the city to maintain trees on private property that may pose hazards to other property or public property. Kidd said the ordinance is necessary because trees damaged by the emerald ash borer can quickly become brittle and dangerous when they die. The invasive pest has only recently been found in the area but may pose a significant threat in the near future, city officials say.