Kewaunee County projects 2017 revenue shortage
After the Kewaunee County Board struggled to make ends meet with its 2016 budget, County Finance Committee Chairman Lee Luft is projecting further revenue shortfalls in 2017.
He told a group of city, town and village officials Feb. 12 that the county expects further revenue reductions because of the loss of utility tax payments from the closing of the Kewaunee Power Station, which could result in an estimated $600,000 to $1 million shortfall in 2017 and beyond.
The county Finance Committee is seeking input from the county’s town, village and city officials on how to address these budget issues, Luft told the group.
Last year, the county was able to use $600,000 in undesignated road funds in the Highway Department to balance the budget. This was a one-time use of funds and will not be available in the future, Luft said.
He said that $740,000 in utility tax payments the county used to receive from the Kewaunee Power Station will continue to decline by 20 percent each year until they end in 2019.
To address these shortfalls, the County Board also asked each department to cut expenses by 5 percent in 2016 and asked employees to pay more of their health insurance premiums. The county staff has also been reduced from 176 to 142 employees.
“There is not a lot more meat to be taken off these bones,” Luft said. He told the group that if the county didn’t find new revenue sources it would have to begin cutting services in 2017.
One solution would be a referendum on the November ballot to allow the county to increase its levy limit, Luft said.
Two other options to raise revenues are a countywide sales tax and a wheel tax, Luft said.
Scott Feldt, county administrator, projected that a 0.5 percent county sales tax could bring $1.1 to $1.4 million in additional revenues to the county in 2017.
Luft noted that a 0.5 percent sales tax would cost residents $5 for every $1,000 of purchases made in the county, and certain purchases, such as groceries, would be exempt.
Feldt said, however, that most of this additional revenue would be used to cover existing operating expenses. He said that because the $600,000 from the highway maintenance fund would not be available again, if a county sales tax was implemented, $600,000 from the sales tax would have to be used for existing operating expenses in 2017.
In addition, increases for employee health care costs are projected for 2017 that may cost the county up to $300,000, Feldt said. He also noted that up to an additional $200,000 may be needed for employee wage increases. County employees did not receive a wage increase in 2016, although they did receive a 1.5 percent wage supplement this year to help defray the cost of increased health-care premiums, Feldt said.
“In two years we would be back to square one,” said Feldt. “A county sales tax will not solve all our problems.”
Luft said that Finance Committee had also looked at a wheel tax, requiring each non-farm vehicle in the county to pay $20 a year. Feldt said that this tax would bring in approximately $363,000 in revenues to the county.
“No one in my township is in favor of a wheel tax,” said Dave Hardke, Carlton town chairman.
Luft and Feldt said that a long-term solution could be to increase the county’s tax base through increased tourism and commercial and residential development.
“This budget in 2016 marks the first effort to stimulate some growth,” said Luft, He pointed to the salary allocated for a tourism coordinator, new entrance signs to the county, website improvements and cooperation with area chambers of commerce.
Feldt noted, however, that growing tourism will not have an immediate impact on county revenues.
A second meeting of the Kewaunee County Finance Committee to discuss budget options for 2017 is scheduled for 9 a.m. April 8 at the Kewaunee County Administration Building, 810 Lincoln St, Kewaunee. The public is invited to attend and comment, Luft said.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Kewaunee County projects 2017 revenue shortage