Despite small levy increase, county tax rate would drop

Proposed 2019 budget hinges on health insurance, revenue from sales tax
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Without knowing what health costs will be or how much sales tax revenue is likely to come in, Ozaukee County Administrator Jason Dzwinel Wednesday morning presented county supervisors a 2019 budget that would raise the county levy less than 2%.  

The county tax rate would be just shy of $1.75 per $1,000 valuation, or about 5 cents less than last year.

Dzwinel projected the tax levy to rise $401,275 to about $20.94 million, up from the 2018 levy of $20.54 million, a 1.95% increase.

The proposed budget includes a 2% hike in county employee wages and benefits, adding $250,000 to $350,000 to the levy.

The budget assumes a 7.5% increase in health insurance premiums in 2019. The county is currently seeking bids on next year’s plan and expects to have final numbers sometime in October, Dzwinel said.

The 7.5% estimate is based on the last 12 months of costs, he said. That increase in health care premium costs would equate to about $275,000 added to the levy, Dzwinel says in his proposed budget.

The county utilizes the Oz Health Employee Clinic, which focuses on wellness and offers treatment for illnesses, injuries, exams, labs, immunizations and other preventive services. It is staffed by a physicians assistant and medical assistant.

County officials are hoping to reduce operating costs further by partnering with other local public and private organizations. Dzwinel said there are currently two groups interested in doing so. 

Dzwinel said the county has been able to limit health insurance premium hikes to 0.41% per year from 2015 through 2018 but a recent spate of high-cost claims will likely  have a negative effect on 2019’s costs.

He told members of the county’s Executive Committee last week there are currently 50 employees with claims of $50,000 to $350,000.

The proposed budget assumes an increase in sales tax collections of $175,000, based on a recommendation from the Wisconsin Counties Association.

It’s possible that could go higher because Wisconsin will begin collecting online sales tax revenue Oct. 1. It is expected to generate $90 million in additional revenue statewide over the next year, according to a  Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis. 

That follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that said states could collect taxes for online sales more broadly than before.

“Health insurance and sales tax estimates are two very significant items that we do not have strong enough data to make a final recommendation on,” Dzwinel said. “Either one could fundamentally change the recommended budget.”

The levy increase is due to the county taking over three police dispatchers from the Village of Grafton and to borrow another $200,000 to upgrade radio communications.

Those increased costs could be offset by the increase in property valuation due to the value of new construction, which Dzwinel estimates to be about $265,000.

But at this point, Dzwinel is not factoring that into the budget.

State law limits counties and municipalities from increasing their tax levy beyond the value of net new construction.

Offsetting other cost increases will be deferment of $938,000 in capital projects in the Planning and Parks Department. Those projects include building  bathrooms at Lions Den Park and Covered Bridge Park, playground equipment at Waubedonia Park and resurfacing the Interurban Trail.

“Given the state imposed levy restrictions, the ability to fund these projects is unworkable in a single budget year,” Dzwinel wrote in the budget. 

Those and other projects could be restored by supervisors as the budget works through the review process.

Dzwinel also projects that the county will see increased revenues or reduced costs in other programs, including $516,000 in its long term support and behavioral health program, $363,861 in increased revenue at the Lasata Care Center and $97,000 in the Land Information Office.

Following the presentation Wednesday to the full County Board, the county Executive Committee, made up of the board’s leadership and committee chairmen, will hear from department heads on their budget submissions beginning Oct. 3.

After that, the Executive Committee will  present a recommended budget to the full County Board, which will vote on the budget in November and establish a new tax rate that will be reflected on tax bills that go out in December.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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