Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Proposed county tax levy up by 0.14 percent
Smallest increase since 1996

by Chris Schultz

November 10, 2011

Bretl
ELKHORN — Walworth County's tax levy is up, but not by much.

In fact, the county levy will increase by 0.14 percent, the lowest increase since 1996, according to Jessica Lanser, county comptroller.

"It was a challenge from the state of Wisconsin to essentially freeze our levy," said County Administrator David Bretl. "It was not an easy budget to put together."

Bretl and those who put together the county's 2012 budget faced many uncertainties and limits this year, he noted in the narrative for this year's administrator's budget.

The proposed budget was up for public hearing Nov. 1. The County Board considered the budget for approval on Tuesday night after the Regional News deadline.

The proposed total county levy for 2012 is $60.9 million, compared to $60.8 million in 2011. The actual difference in dollars is $86,624.

The estimated tax rate for 2012 is $4.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That's a decrease of 2 cents compared to last year's rate of $4.28 per $1,000.

While the levy may have increased only ever so slightly, Walworth County's tax base has taken another hit.

The county's equalized assessed value is at $14.3 billion, down 1.12 percent from last year. Last year, the county's valuation of $14.45 billion was 3.59 percent lower than the year before.

Overall, county valuations have dropped about $700 million over the past two years, according to county figures. The county's assessed valuation does not include Tax Increment Finance districts.

So, for a house valued at $250,000, property taxes for county purposes in 2012 would run $1,065, compared to $1,070 last year. However, as the drop in countywide assessed valuations shows, not all county properties kept their values over this past year.

Assuming the $250,000 house in 2010 dropped 1.12 percent of its value in 2011, that same home, now valued at $247,200, would pay $1,053.07 for 2012.

The above figures assume the property owner pays all of the county's four-part levy.

All taxable properties in Walworth County are subject to the operating levy and debt service levy, which total about $51 million and accounts for about $3.56 per $1,000 of the total tax rate.

The next two levies and rates are:

n The library levy, which pays for library service in the unincorporated areas, is $1.6 million, up 6.57 percent from last year's levy of $1.46 million. It's tax rate is about 11 cents per $1,000.

Property owners in communities with municipal libraries do not pay the library tax.

n CDEB (Children with Disabilities Education Board, which includes special education at Lakeland School) accounts for $8.4 million, down 1.2 percent from last year's levy of $8.5 million. Its tax rate is about 60.3 cents per $1,000 of equalized assessed valuation.

Walworth County property owners in the Clinton and Burlington school districts don't pay the CDEB tax, because those school districts have their own special education programs.

As the economy continues to drag along at a sluggish pace, the county has found it necessary to continue to cut employees.

This year's budget provides funding for about 809 full-time equivalent workers. That's down about 13.8 full-time equivalent positions from last year.

A large share of the employee cuts will be in the Sheriff's Office, where two vacant positions in the corrections department have already been cut and there are plans to cut eight more positions through attrition by July 2012.

The corrections department will also close one Huber pod, all from the new electronic monitoring system and the new OWI court, which will take in about 90 third-time DUI offenders a year.

The budget includes $100,000 for the OWI court.

During the hearing, Mike Van Den Bosch director of the Walworth County Economic Development Corp. said his group has made progress over the past year.

He said WCEDA met with business owners in the county and is making strides to working with school districts.

WCEDA is seeking continuation of county funding.

Lori Glas, a licensed practical nurse in Health and Human Services urged the County Board not to cut nursing staff at HHS, which would create problems both for the remaining nurses and the patients.