Despite tough economy from COVID-19, Kewaunee County proposes little-changed 2021 budget
KEWAUNEE – One thing left relatively unchanged by the COVID-19 pandemic is the 2021 budget proposed for Kewaunee County.
The budget presented last month by Administrator Scott Feldt to the County Board offers few notable changes from the 2020 budget. It calls for a 2.64% increase in the tax levy from this year to next, but a decrease in the tax rate.
A public hearing on the budget will be held during the Oct. 20 board meeting at the county fairgrounds in Luxemburg, and community members can submit comments in advance to the county clerk if they aren't attending in person. Feldt will review and explain the budget during the meeting, and board supervisors can ask questions and comment.
The board meeting to adopt the final budget is scheduled for Nov. 10. The county's Finance Committee will meet immediately before both the October and November meetings to discuss and recommended changes requested by county departments.
Expenditures would increase by 6.2%, a little more than $1.4 million, under the proposed budget, from $22,664,132 in 2020 to $24,071,278 for 2021, and the tax levy would increase by $326,319, from $12,360,443 to $12,686,762. Large parts of those increases are the result of a 3% increase in health insurance premiums for county employees (although dental insurance premiums did not change) and a 1.68% cost of living pay increase.
But the proposed tax rate would drop from $7.08 per $1,000 of equalized property value in 2020 to $7.06 per $1,000 next year because equalized values, determined by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, increased in the county, from $1.745 billion to $1.795 billion (not including TIF districts). Feldt noted if the budget passes as is, it will be the third straight year the county tax rate has decreased, corresponding with increases in equalized values and tax levies over that period.
"The proposed budget is to me a fiscally conservative budget," Feldt said. "We continue to make investments in equipment, staff and programs, and do so in a way that is fiscally prudent."
Feldt said the pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on economies, didn't have much effect on the proposed budget. He anticipates state aid will remain the same, and revenue from the county sales tax, where the biggest hit might have been felt from COVID-19, actually is on pace to be higher than last year. That led him to budget for a $50,000 increase next year in sales tax revenue, to $1.15 million.
"We were a little surprised," Feldt said about the sales tax. "But the more we thought about it, when people have to stay home, they're not going to Brown County to shop, they're not going to Brown County to buy groceries. They're shopping here or ordering online (from local stores)."
The pandemic's effect is seen most in the proposals for the Child Support and Treasurer departments, which decreased by 74.38% and 75.68% respectively. While the drop would be $11,920 for Child Support, it would amount to 493,492 for Treasurer.
About 70% of the costs for Child Support are covered by Medicaid reimbursements, and Feldt anticipates a drop because of less need for child services. The Treasurer Department, meanwhile, relies largely on interest from tax payments and investments for its funding, and Feldt said interest rates have dropped from around 2% to "nearly zero" during the pandemic.
However, Feldt said the county's general fund is in very good shape and its Capital Improvement Fund for building improvements and equipment replacement will have more than $430,000 by the end of 2020, with another $62,000 to be added next year in the proposed budget. Also, the county's long-term debt will be $9.65 million at the end of this year, 10.1% of the maximum allowed by the state (based on the county's equalized value), so Feldt believes the county is in position to weather the financial storm from the pandemic.
"We've been pretty fortunate for this year," Feldt said. "If there are negative impacts, we have the wherewithal to absorb them. We have a strong general fund, a strong fund balance … I'm really optimistic. We have seen some counties that were really negatively impacted (by the pandemic), but we have a good, strong staff and we're set up to get through this."
A public hearing will be held on the proposed 2021 Kewaunee County budget during the County Board meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Expo Building at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds, 625 Third St., Luxemburg.
Face masks are required for those attending in person; the meeting also will be livestreamed on YouTube and comments can be submitted in advance to the County Clerk's office.
For more information, visit kewauneeco.org; click on the "Live Meetings" button at the bottom of the homepage to watch the meeting and the "Minutes/Agendas/Budget" tab in the left-hand column to view the proposed budget.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Despite tough economy from COVID-19, Kewaunee County proposes little-changed 2021 budget