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Proposed county budget adds dispatcher, social worker

By divvying up an extra $301,000 in tax money and a $100,000 carryover, the Pierce County Finance Committee reached a budget giving departments some of what they want for next year.

The budget approved by the committee Monday night will be presented to the full county board at its budget hearing Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Although the state hasn't yet provided worksheets to determine the increase, finance workers figure the county can raise its levy $301,118 above this year's property tax.

But most of that money is eaten up by already-approved pay increases and other higher costs, leaving $86,833 for the county board to use for new purposes, said Finance Director Julie Brickner.

As budget talks proceeded among finance committee members and leaders of the four major departments last week and Monday, Human Services Director Tamara Kincaid volunteered her department is on track to have surplus funds by the end of the year.

The committee agreed to add $100,000 in human services carryover to the $86,833 and divide the total this way: $65,915 to add a jailer/dispatcher in the sheriff's department: $33,276 (federal matching funds will pay the rest) for a lead economic support worker in the human services department; $15,000 to increase time for three alcohol and drug counselors from 35 to 40 hours a week; $6,800 to increase hours for a clerical worker in the UW Extension office as the county prepares to host Wisconsin Farm Technology Days; $10,000 to the public health department, which had used carryover funds to hold its levy request at last year's level; and $15,000 to the highway department.

A balance of roughly $41,000 will be reserved to help pay for heating and air conditioning upgrades. The bulk of the money for that work will come from funds borrowed this year, but estimates for the work are coming in higher than anticipated.

Managers of the county's four largest departments--law enforcement, highway, public health and human services--met with the finance and personnel committee Wednesday to explain their needs.

These were their major new requests for 2009:

--The sheriff, whose base budget is 1.8 percent higher than last year, wanted two new dispatcher/jailers, another patrol officer and a secretary. Cost: $231,000.

--The human services department director wanted to add a lead economic support worker and increase the hours of three alcohol and drug counselors. Cost: $47,000.

--The highway department, which came in with a budget two percent higher than last year, wanted to get back an office position it had before and is chafing at funding limits ordered earlier by the county board.

--Public Health Department Director Caralynn Hodgson planned to use carryover funds and asked for no increase from the property tax levy.

--Also, spokespersons for the county's 54 department managers and other administrators asked for raises of 2.75 percent for that group. Cost: $83,469.

"I'll take what I can get," Sheriff Nancy Hove told finance committee members. While she asked for two new jailers, a new half-time secretary and another patrol officer, she said her first priority would be to get another jailer/dispatcher.

"At two percent, we just can't deliver what we're doing now, and we can't plan for the future for some large ticket items that we have no control over," said Highway Commissioner Ross Christopherson. He said fuel and material costs have risen more than two percent and the department is falling behind on planned road maintenance.

Also, said Christopherson, bridges on CTHs U and F are scheduled for replacement in 2010. The county will have to pay 20 percent of the cost of that work, but the department hasn't been able to set aside the money it should for that work, he said.

"When you let your infrastructure go, you become a third world country," said Finance Committee Member Jeff Holst, urging greater support for the highway department.

"We don't have a whole lot left," said Hodgson of public health carryover funds. The department also used surplus funds to balance the 2008 budget. She said public health is going into 2009 with little cushion.

The finance committee voted to recommend 2.5 percent increases for department managers. The original budget package had funds for two percent increases. Brickner said the departments should be able to absorb the cost of the higher raises.

The budget proposal adopted Monday night includes $13,673,825 for operating levy; $452,625 for debt service; $412,600 for libraries; and $200,000 for county aid for local bridges.