Joe Parisi

“Our capital budgets are being stretched like never before,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a 2020 budget guidelines memo sent to county department heads June 10. 

With Dane County’s capital expenditures entering what Executive Joe Parisi called “uncharted territory,” requests for 2020 capital budget expenditures from Dane County departments will be closely scrutinized.

Parisi highlights significant financial commitments that Dane County has agreed to including a $148 million jail project and major investment into flood mitigation and water quality initiatives. Parisi also said the county is involved in some of the most expensive road projects it has funded, including its $18 million share in Highway M on Madisons’s west side to Verona and $8 million in Fish Hatchery Road in Fitchburg.

“Our capital budgets are being stretched like never before,” Parisi said in a 2020 budget guidelines memo sent to county department heads.

Though borrowing for capital projects does not count against state-imposed restrictions on how much counties can tax, the county’s debt contributes to the overall property tax levy growth, Parisi said.

“As home and property values continue to rise there’s a more acute interest in how local units of government prioritize dollars spent,” Parisi said. “Property taxes have to be part of our community’s conversation about housing affordability.”

Last year, the County Board adopted a $71.45 million capital budget and a $558.56 million operating budget. The 2019 budget decreased taxes — the first time a county budget did so since 2000 — on an average home by $8.10.

In his operating budget directions, Parisi is asking departments to prepare budgets at 2019 funding levels plus increases in personnel costs.

Departments can request additional resources to cover existing contracts, but Parisi is asking departments to hold off on creating new positions unless a revenue source is identified.

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“I think it’s important to continue to incentivize partnerships, collaboration, and creativity in the delivering of public services,” Parisi said. “We should always be looking for ways to work with partners — other local units of government, those in the private and non-profit sectors — to improve the quality of and access to services.”

Despite the capital budget challenges, Parisi said the 2020 budget is starting from a “position of fiscal strength.” For example, Parisi said the county’s bio-gas facility offers a new source of revenue and great potential to support cleaner air and water.

Parisi also reflected on the progress the county has made over the past ten years. In 2010, the county’s unallocated general reserve was nearly $3.8 million in the red. Now, the reserves are in excess of $42.5 million.

Additionally, Parisi cites a nearly $24 million per year increase in sales tax collections project for 2019 over what was realized in 2010 and the median home value in Madison increased from $245,000 to nearly $285,000.

Parisi will release the executive capital and operating budgets Oct. 1. The County Board typically votes on the budgets in November. 

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.