County budget set for 2020

Property tax rate down by 2.2%
Warren Bluhm
Oconto County Times Herald Editor

Taxpayers in Oconto County can expect to be billed $501.51 in property taxes for every $100,000 their house is worth, for county purposes, after the County Board on Thursday passed a $44.2 million budget for 2020.

The tax rate, an $11.90 decrease from a year ago, does not include school or municipal property taxes. The tax rate supports a property tax levy of $20.5 million, a 2.2% increase from the 2019 budget.

After several marathon sessions of the board’s Finance Committee, supervisors spent about two hours making the final adjustments and listening to a line-by-line explanation of the document from county Administrative Coordinator Kevin Hamann and Finance Director Lisa Sherman.

The morning started with a minor adjustment of $1,853 for unused tax levy carry-forward from fiscal years 2014, 2015 and 2016. Hamann explained that the number, derived from a state worksheet, is apparently the result of rounding issues over the years that created small fluctuations.

“It was such a small amount that we said, ‘Let’s not even worry about it, not even bring it up.’ We decided to finally bring it up,” Hamann said.

Among the highlights of the 2020 budget is roughly $2.42 million in capital project purchases, including $2.1 million for an emergency radio system upgrade. The actual cost of the system is expected to be $3.1 million, but the additional $1 million was moved into the projected 2021 budget to mitigate the impact on this year’s levy, Hamann said.

The Highway Department plans $700,000 in equipment purchases over the coming year, which are funded by depreciation charges and retained earnings, not the levy, he said.

A $1.74 million debt payment for 2020 will be funded by $718,504 of county sales tax revenues and the county debt levy of $1.02 million.

Nearly three-quarters of the levy goes to the three biggest departments – the Sheriff’s Office ($6.67 million or 32.6% of the levy), Human Services ($3.919 million or 19.1%) and Highway & Bridges ($3.918 million, also 19.1%).

Of that $501.51 that the owner of a $100,000 property will pay, Hamann said, the sheriff will get $163.31, Human Services $95.88 and Highways $95.85.

The administrative coordinator included a breakdown of all county departments, including $5.40 per taxpayer for County Board salaries and operations.

“Hopefully you’ll agree that you’re worth $5.40,” Hamann said. “I don’t drink coffee, so I don’t know if that’s two cups of coffee or one latte from Starbucks.”

He also noted that the Emergency Government Department is paid with $1.79 of that $501.51.

“I think they got their money’s worth this year with the storms,” he said. “When you break this down, I think the public sees, ‘I get this (amount) worth of services.’ Even if they have a $500,000 home, you can times it by five, and this is what they pay.”

After all was said and done, the County Board unanimously approved the completed budget.