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Chippewa County budget looks to increase funding for courthouse security, jail, mental health and county wages

The Chippewa Herald - 11/4/2023

Nov. 3—The 2024 Chippewa County budget looks to increase funding for courthouse security, county jail employees, mental health and addiction services, aging and disability resources and county employee wages. The board will vote on the budget Monday evening after a public hearing.

Chippewa County's tax levy will likely increase by 0.81%, or $169,663, in 2024 according to the proposed county budget. The tax levy is set to increase from $20,941,066 in 2023 to $21,110,729, according to budget documents made available on the Chippewa County website earlier in the week.

The proposed tax rate for the budget shows a decrease of 11.87% to $2.40 from $2.72 in the 2023 budget.

Chippewa County administrator Randy Scholz stated in his budget address to the board that the "main reason for the decrease of the tax rate is in direct correlation with the county's equalized value for FY24 (fiscal year 2024), which increased by 14.38%, or $1,107,349,000."

The total budget will increase from $119,677,569 to $126,122,210.

Chippewa County is set to receive $741,795 in new funding, Scholz wrote, after June legislation signed by Gov. Evers that will increase state aid to municipalities.

Scholz said the aid is designated for certain services "such as law enforcement, fire protection, EMS, emergency response communications, public works, courts and transportation."

The current plan calls for $50,000 to start funding a full-time legal secretary in the district attorney's office, $140,000 for a new deputy corporation counsel and $100,000 for vehicle purchases in the highway department.

The budget also allots up to $225,000 for improving the Chippewa County Courthouse security systems and $175,000 for the jail, which is facing increasing meal costs and reduced revenue for boarding inmates. The plan calls for adding a Jailer II position and adding $1.00 per hour shift differential for night shift jailers and telecommunicator employees.

Scholz also proposes annual employee wage adjustments in 2024.

"I am recommending a 3% wage adjustment for employees effective on July 1, 2024. The 3% increase is an effort to try and stay competitive so we can recruit and retain great employees," he wrote.

After a 2023 compensation study and market analysis completed by Carlson Dettman LLC, it is estimated that the total increase for wages and benefits will be $1,991,960 and of that "approximately $1,493,970 of property tax credit will need to be added to our current pay allocation for wages and fringe benefits to implement the 2024 market analysis recommendations."

Scholz said he recommends implementing this "without increasing the mill rate." Funding can come from states sales tax, which can be utilized as a property tax credit to the county property tax levy, he wrote.

"Therefore, the increase to tax levy in the individual department's budget will be offset by the property tax levy credit from sales tax, which will have a zero impact to the total tax levy for the county," he wrote.

Scholz said he hopes to increase the salary schedule annually and to conduct a market analysis every two years.

The budget highlights numerous and increasing demands on the county. Scholz said that the top three challenges facing Chippewa County include "the current rate of inflation, our ability to compete in a competitive employee market and the increased mental health needs in our communities."

Escalating mental health needs and the costs associated with them, as well as the impacts of methamphetamine use in the region, are some of "the most significant challenges facing Chippewa County," Scholz stated.

"The meth epidemic is still continuing, and many of our departments deal with the aftermath of it to the families and the individuals. Our efforts are continuing to educate residents about the effects of meth and how to get help with this addiction," he wrote.

Scholz continued by sharing that related mental health care costs have increased considerably because of the lack of available facilities in the area and across the state and the increased cost for in-state facilities.

"In the last few years, we have seen an increase in cases needing the specialized care, which are not reimbursed by the state. Additional allocations of $200,000 and $40,000 of tax levy were approved in the 2022 and 2023 budgets, respectively, for the Department of Human Services to help address some of the financial problems with out of home placements" he said. "For the 2024 budget, I'm proposing an additional $100,000 of property tax levy for 2024 compared to the 2023 budget. We know this isn't addressing the total financial impact with these placements, but hopefully it will help mitigate some of the losses."

The budget also asks for an additional $50,000 of funding for the Aging and Disability Resources Division to help with the "increased costs of food, packaging and transportation costs for the Meals on Wheels program and to allow expansion of the program to some areas that currently have no service."

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(c)2023 The Chippewa Herald, Chippewa Falls, Wisc.

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