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Pierce County budget raises levy to maximum allowed by state

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ELLSWORTH -- After a little tweaking Tuesday morning, the Pierce County Board adopted its 2007 budget, raising the county's property tax levy to the state-limited cap of $12,875,705.

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That total includes almost $12.3 million for general operations, $400,000 for county library and $200,000 for county aid for bridges. The county has no debt so no money was budgeted for debt service.

Each county's property tax cap is set by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and is based on the value of new construction. In theory that system should mean owners of existing property will see no increase in the property tax they pay for county government.

The budget adds no new personnel in 2007 and includes about $406,000 to cover the Human Service Department's 2005 deficit. It does not have any money to cover a projected 2006 deficit of about $500,000 for that department.

The budget affects the county's three largest departments in these ways:

n The Sheriff's Department budget was frozen. The department will get the same $4.7 million tax levy support it got this year.

n The Highway Department got a 2.9% increase in tax levy support, bringing its share of the levy to nearly $3 million.

n The Human Services Department will get a 3.49% increase in property tax levy money. That means the agency will get about $1.7 from the property tax to help fund a 2007 budget of about $10 million.

A series of proposed budget amendments were presented Tuesday, but only two were adopted.

Supervisors voted to transfer $40,000 from the contingency fund to Human Services to keep a part-time nurse job in the Community Support Program.

Earlier action had cut $109,000 from CSP, which serves persistently mentally ill persons. The cut meant eliminating the clinical coordinator position, cutting the part-time nurse job and reducing psychiatrist hours.

On Tuesday, Human Services Committee Chairman Bill Gilles made the motion to return funding for the nurse to the budget.

"We have 24 individuals over there that are very fragile," said Gilles, who worried about cutting services to people desperate for help.

Cally Fuchs, a former county mental health therapist, said the nurse handles some patient management tasks that would otherwise fall to the psychiatrist.

With the nurse's help, the psychiatrist "can serve more people, and there could be more money charged to insurance companies," said Fuchs.

"I think we should put back the whole $109,000, but $40,000 is better than nothing," said Supervisor Rich Purdy, who also serves on the Human Services Committee.

The board voted 11-4 to restore the nurse position.

Supervisors also voted to restore $14,500 to the University Extension budget to keep a part-time secretary. The department now has three secretaries and had proposed reducing the hours for one, but the Finance and Personnel Committee voted to eliminate that job entirely.

Supervisor Mel Pittman, who serves as vice chairman of the Agriculture and Extension Committee, said that secretary makes a significant contribution to 4-H programs and the fair.

Agriculture Agent Greg Andrews said the department is hoping to host Wisconsin's 2010 Farm Technology Days and the secretary would play an important role in submitting the application and preparing for that event.

State and federal sources pay 60% of the salaries for Extension agents but nothing for secretarial support, said Pittman.

The motion to add back funding for the part-time secretary was adopted on a 10-5 vote.

Motions to restore the position of CSP coordinator failed.

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