Oconto County Board OKs 2024 budget

County’s share of tax bill expected to go down
By: 
Warren Bluhm
News Editor

Oconto County Administrator Erik Pritzl compares the process of preparing the 2024 county budget to competing in the Door County Half-Marathon earlier this year.

“I thought the preparation that goes into that, to run up and down hills, I don’t know what the elevations are anymore, it’s just brutal,” Pritzl said as he introduced the final budget to the county board Oct. 26. “I think that preparation is easier than preparing the budget in some ways. It’s all just as much work, but here we got a team, which makes it a lot easier.”

He thanked the board’s administration committee, finance director Lisa Sherman, deputy director Courtney Kazik and county department heads for their roles in developing the $50.2 million budget, which includes a $22.06 million county property tax levy.

In calculating the impact on the individual property taxpayer, Pritzl took a different approach. Traditionally, budget makers describe the bill for a home valued at $100,000, but reassessments and recent double-digit increases in equalized valuation make that estimate somewhat meaningless for the average property owner.

Instead, Pritzl based his estimate on the median value of an Oconto County property, which currently is $172,100. A median is the exact center point, where half is lower and the other half is higher.

Using that measure, Pritzl said the county’s share of the tax bill for a median-value home included worked out to $717.14 a year ago and will be about $616.63 this December.

“So ideally the county portion of your tax bill should be decreasing — a little bit,” he said.

The sheriff’s department (38.4%), health and human services (17.6%), and highway department (17.3%) continue to be the departments that use the largest percentage of the tax levy, Pritzl said. No other department relies on more than 6%, and salaries and benefits account for the largest expense across all departments.

Highlights of the 2024 budget include a 2% across-the-board raise for county employees, plus a 1% “retention incentive” for employees who stay at their jobs for the entire year through next December.

“That is awarded at the end of the year, as close to the end as possible, but we want to make sure that goes out before the end of the year, before Christmas,” Pritzl said, noting that in addition to the general raise, eligible employees will also receive step increases and merit pay.

The county got good news from its insurance carrier, which is asking for about half of the premium increase that administrators expected.

“We knew this would be capped at 9.5% increase, but it ended being a 5% increase, so that helped tremendously in preparing our budget,” Pritzl said.

The county did its best to reduce reliance on its contingency fund or transferring dollars from its general fund — the county savings account — to maintain county operations, he said.

When they began work on the 2024 budget, the contingency account budget was initially set at $200,000, but the approved budget has a $125,000 contingency.

“We have not used contingency either last year or this year,” Pritzl said.

Similarly, the applied general fund was initially set at $750,000, but the final budget amount is $713,000. “We’re trying to get more to an actual-cost budget.”

The board approved $50,157,268 in expenditures and a county property tax levy of $22,061,436. Other revenues include state aid, state and federal grants, license fees and charges for services.

wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com