Tax rate goes down but property values, levy rise in proposed Kewaunee County 2023 budget
KEWAUNEE – The tax rate for property owners in Kewaunee County would drop dramatically under its proposed 2023 county budget. Whether that means they'd pay less in taxes depends on their property values compared to previous years.
The proposed budget, which County Administrator Scott Feldt presented to the County Board at its Sept. 13 meeting, calls for a tax rate of $6.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a decrease of nearly 10% from $6.88 per $1,000 in the 2022 budget. If it stands in the final budget, the rate would be the lowest for county taxpayers since 2006, when it was $6.10.
However, the tax levy, the amount of the budget funded by property taxes, would rise under the proposal by more than $700,000, or 5.46%, from $12,876,389 to $13,579,712. The total county budget would increase by 4.4%, from just over $24.4 million to just under $25.5 million. The 2022 levy and budget increased by 1.49% and 1.6%, respectively, from 2021.
The proposed budget and levy increase with a lower tax rate could happen because equalized property values across the county, determined by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, soared in the past year, from about $1.876 billion to more than $2.189 billion. That's an increase in one year of almost $318 million, or 16.98%.
Assuming a property valued at $150,000 last year remained at that valuation this year, its owner would pay $102 less tax under the proposed budget than they did for 2022.
Feldt said he doesn't know of a particular event that drove the significant jump in property values. He said net new construction in the county increased by 1.31% in the past year, compared to its average of about 1%, but that alone wouldn't account for the increase.
"You think of increased property values if there's new homes being built, new construction being built," Feldt said. "Simply, it's just property values themselves are going up. It used to be a starter home was around $200,000; now it's $300,000."
The biggest increases in expenses would be in health insurance coverage for county employees, which is expected to rise by about 6% under the county's current health plan, and wages, with Feldt requesting a cost-of-living increase of about 4%.
Feldt said the county isn't planning any major capital purchases, but the inflation and supply issues that wreaked havoc on the country's economy are driving increased expenses pretty much across the board.
The County Board earlier this year approved moving ahead with plans to build a new county jail and public safety building to replace the current outdated, out-of-code facility. Construction is expected to start sometime in 2023 with an estimated cost of about $25.6 million.
Feldt said the main impacts for the proposed 2023 budget are a requested increase in the county's debt service payment, from $1.5 million to about $1.8 million, and a request to set aside about $667,500 from the general fund to prepare for the transition to the new jail. That includes possible new hires that aren't directly included in the budget; the jail will need five more full-time staff when it opens, plus there's possible retirements, and it's preferred to hire two people at a time for training purposes.
"We haven't taken out any debt for (the new jail) yet in 2023, but we probably will," Feldt said. "We're pre-paying some existing debt to keep it level over the next years. … We'd like to hire (for the jail) in 2023."
The number of full-time equivalent positions in the proposed budget is virtually the same as it was this year, dropping from 147.35 to 147.06. Feldt said the county has maintained basically the same staff levels for the past seven years.
Another item of note in the budget is $40,000 requested for the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. from the county's Economic Development Fund, aka the "Dominion fund." That fund comes not from taxes but from annual $500,000 payments for a 10-year period by Dominion Energy through an agreement reached after Dominion closed the Kewaunee Power Station. The funding and fate of the KCEDC has been a subject of discussion on the County Board for several years.
To finalize the budget, the County Board's committees can propose changes and forward them to the finance or executive committees, which would recommend approved changes to the full board.
The Executive Committee will meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 3 and the Finance Committee at 8 a.m. Oct. 7, 5 p.m. Oct. 18 and 5 p.m. Nov. 8, the latter coming immediately before the full board meeting at 6 p.m. to approve the final budget. A public hearing on the budget, with Feldt taking questions from board members, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Oct. 18, right after the finance meeting.
To download a copy of the proposed budget, visit kewauneeco.org and click on the "County Budget" link under the photo at the top of the homepage.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Tax rate goes down but property values, levy rise in proposed Kewaunee County 2023 budget