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Sidebars: The softer side of the county budget



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September 10, 2013 | 01:32 PM
Of all of the holidays, Labor Day has become my least favorite.

It is the weekend before I present the annual budget to the county board and, as a result, usually involves a weekend of labor as I place the finishing touches on next year’s spending plan.

With most of the budget decisions made, my task is to summarize all of the numbers into a narrative that explains changes that are being proposed for the upcoming year.

This narrative, which is called the budget transmittal letter, has grown in size over the years. It took me just six pages to describe the 2002 budget, the first one I prepared for the county. The 2013 letter was 22 pages long. I am sure I could be more concise, but the county budget is large.

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Even at its current length, I am only able to highlight major themes and significant changes. At one level, my Labor Day labor is self-imposed. There is no legal requirement for the letter.

On the other hand, I don’t think it is fair to our county board members to simply drop off a stack of “green bar” computer printouts on their desk and expect them to make sense of all of the numbers.

The letter gives them a head start on the two-month process that follows, which culminates in adoption of the budget on Nov. 12. I try to make the letter as reader-friendly as possible.

There are limits, however, to just how exciting I can make portions of the budget appear; the 30-year amortization schedule of our OPEB obligation comes to mind.

One tradition that grew out of my frustration with some of this very technical writing was to introduce “sidebar” articles to the budget.

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These articles describe individuals or events that may not even be related to the budget. The sidebars gave me a much-needed break from writing about all of the numbers and hopefully provided the same respite for those readers courageous enough to make it through the whole document.

According to my archives, I first started adding the sidebars in 2006. Since then, I have used them to highlight outstanding employees, community leaders and important events in the history of the county.

This year’s sidebars are a tribute to citizens who help govern the county by serving on our many committees, boards and commissions. Six of those citizen members were gracious enough to be interviewed by my administrative assistant, Tammy Werblow, who did an outstanding job writing this year’s stories.

One of the risks of taking on a project like this is that space will only permit a small group to be included. There is always the chance that someone who was not chosen will be offended.

I probably should have been more worried about this, but I really didn’t give the selection process much thought.

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Given the high quality of the people we have serving in these roles, I picked the first six citizens that came to mind.

I also know that those who weren’t chosen are not the kind of folks who hold a grudge.

They work for nothing, or almost nothing, and are motivated to make the county a better place to live, not to be in the public spotlight. Citizen committee members highlighted in this year’s budget letter include:

Tom Cotter

A long-time resident of East Troy and a retired educator, Tom has served on the Civil Service Board for 18 years.

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That board plays an important role in the selection and promotion of deputies.

Ella Pious

In her ninth decade of life, Ella has been a faithful member of our Health & Human Services Board for 22 years.

Mariette Nowak

A passionate nature lover, Mariette directed the Milwaukee County Nature Center before becoming an early member of our Park Committee.

Ann Seaver

When she is not busy with her duties as the Richmond Town Treasurer, Ann serves on the County Board of Adjustment.

Royce DeBow

Active in local government issues for years, Royce is a past president and current member of the Lakeshores Library System Board.

Rich Kuhkne

Fortunately for the county, after Rich retired as a County Board Supervisor, he joined our Zoning Agency as a citizen member.

Shortly after they are released to our supervisors, important budget documents are posted on the county’s website, www.co.walworth.wi.us. If you follow the links for “Departments” and then “Finance Department” you will find the county administrator’s budget, including the transmittal letter.

If you need a break from reading about all of the numbers,

I would encourage you to read the full profiles of the citizen committee members mentioned in this column. Better yet, if you think you might be interested in serving on a committee, we recently rolled out a new web page devoted to the topic. Opportunities for service will be posted throughout the year.

You can find the information on the county home page listed above; just follow the “Citizen Committee Members” link.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Walworth County Board of Supervisors.

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