Written by Lance Leonhard
Each November, municipal governments in Wisconsin, including Marathon County Government, adopt their annual budgets. The approval of the budget is the most important policy decision that a government body makes each year. Simply put, the budget identifies a government’s priorities. Our County budget tells me — and the other 700+ County Government employees — what work to tackle in the next year.
But, the importance of a budget certainly extends beyond the next calendar year. In fact, the best budgets prepare a community to address future challenges well before they become emergent needs.
With that background offered, let’s talk about the Proposed 2022 Annual Budget…
What priorities are identified in the Proposed 2022 Budget?
As we began building the 2022 Budget, we continued our efforts to align our resources with our goal of being the Healthiest, Safest, and Most Prosperous county in Wisconsin. Additionally, the budget includes significant investments that are foundational to Marathon County’s long-term fiscal health and operational success. Ultimately, the product of our team’s collective effort is a spending plan that I believe delivers on the priorities set by the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, maintains our essential services, invests in Our People, Our Infrastructure, and Opportunities for Innovation, all while reducing the cost of government by avoiding unnecessary borrowing for capital projects by taking full advantage of the allowable levy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed us in countless ways, and it has also reaffirmed the essential role that counties play in the daily lives of our residents and in the overall structure of government. This year’s budget is mindful of what we have learned throughout the pandemic and is structured in a way that provides a framework for maximizing the value of the considerable opportunity we have to transform our community through the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that we have been allocated. This proposed budget does not provide for the specific allocation of any of the $13.15 million that we have already received or the remaining $13.15 million that we anticipate receiving in 2022.
Our focus in building this budget was twofold:
- First, we needed to build a budget that addressed the community’s priorities as identified by the County Board.
- Second, we needed to ensure that our organization functions as efficiently and effectively as possible as we work to address the community’s needs.
I’m proud to share that the proposed 2022 Budget delivers on each of these goals.
Additionally, no County-delivered programs or services are eliminated in the proposed budget. That might sound like a small accomplishment, but with rising costs and strict levy limits, it’s actually quite a feat. Across the board, our staff worked diligently to ensure that we maintained our commitments to the public, while minimizing budget increases. We continue to protect our financial future by adopting conservative revenue estimates and providing for a significant contingency account to fund unforeseen expenses.
How does the 2022 Budget help us prepare for the future? And, what’s happening to your tax rate? I’m glad you asked…
As we look to the future, we recognize a number of significant challenges. Importantly, the proposed 2022 Budget provides strategic investments in Our People, Our Infrastructure, and Opportunities for Innovation. The Budget Message discusses each of these areas in greater detail, but here are a couple examples of strategies we will implement as part of our 2022 Budget…
Our People: Public Safety Investments
Ensuring public safety is a central aim of government. The proposed budget provides significant increased funding for vital public safety services. After decades long discussions highlighting the need to increase staffing within our Sheriff’s Office Communication Division, this budget provides the final portion of funding necessary to make the opening of a new dispatch channel a reality. Additionally, this budget also provides for an additional Legal Secretary within the District Attorney’s Office.
Our Infrastructure: Roads and Bridges
The proposed budget provides funding for improvements to roads and bridges. Specifically, we look to complete a total of 39.5 miles of highway improvements totaling $6,295,448.
The budget also provides significant resources for design projects to ensure we are well positioned to access federal, or state funding should programs become available.
Opportunities for Innovation
The proposed budget provides continued funding for the UniverCity Year 2020-2023 program, a partnership with the University of Wisconsin, to address more than thirty projects identified by staff and elected leaders to improve the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of our services and evaluate opportunities for innovative partnerships.
In 2022, we will also introduce a new County website aimed at assisting the public in accessing services virtually and at any time of day.
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What does this budget mean for your taxes?
In 2022, the proposed tax rate will be $4.55, which is sixteen cents lower than the 2020 rate of $4.71; however, it is two cents higher than the rate in 2021. It is vitally important to note that this increase is a function of sound fiscal strategy – taking our full levy allocation permitted under Wisconsin law, including a levy adjustment of $716,160 consistent with the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue guidelines, to reduce our need to borrow for capital projects.
Despite a two-cent tax rate increase, Marathon County’s tax rate continues to remain significantly lower than the rate of our neighboring counties. The proposed tax rate is $1.48 (25%) below the 2021 average rate of our Central Wisconsin neighbors and $0.59 (11.5%) below the 2021 statewide median rate of $5.14.
The average homeowner in Marathon County will see a minor increase in the County portion of their property tax bill for 2022. While the proposed tax rate is a sixteen cent decrease from 2020, the equalized value (the taxable value of all property in the county) increased by 9.0% during that time. That means that property value for the average homeowner went up over $14,000, while their total tax bill only increased by $39.41.
So, what’s the next step in the budget process?
Before the budget is formally considered each year, the County Board holds a public hearing on the proposed budget. The purpose of the public hearing is to give everyone in the community the opportunity to weigh in on the budget and express their thoughts on how the County should allocate its resources.
The public hearing is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 4, 2021, at the Marathon County Courthouse in the Assembly Room. If you’re considering attending the budget hearing, I invite you to read my Budget Message (available on the County’s website) and watch this recording of my presentation of the budget to the full board (presentation begins at approximately 3:24 of the video).
The public hearing, like all meetings of the County Board, is open to the public, livestreamed on Government & Education Cable Channel 981 of Wausau Area Access Media, and is available on our YouTube Channel.
Citizens may provide comments related to the budget during the public hearing on Thursday, November 4, 2021, at 7:00 p.m. at the Marathon County Courthouse. If you wish to address the County Board during the public hearing, please register with the Marathon County Clerk no later than five minutes before the start of the meeting (click here to email the County Clerk). Please include your name and address in your email.
If you are not interested in making a comment at the meeting, but would like to share your thoughts on the budget to your elected County Board Supervisor, you can find your representative and his or her contact information on the County Board page of our website.
The County Board will formally consider the budget, including any proposed amendments to it, on Tuesday, November 9, 2021, at 7:00 p.m.
I encourage everyone to take a moment to review the proposed 2022 County Budget. If you have comments or questions, please contact your County Board Supervisor. They want and appreciate your feedback and suggestions. As always, if have you any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After all, this is YOUR County budget.