On Monday, the Dane County Board of Supervisors adopted the 2019 capital and operating budgets, which decrease property taxes for the first time in nearly two decades.
The adopted budgets invest heavily in flood mitigation and preparedness, add significantly to the county’s affordable housing fund and support front-end justice initiatives to reduce the jail population.
“I think it is a responsible budget that improves the quality of life for everyone in the county,” Dane County Board Chair Sharon Corrigan said. “When we have successful families leading successful lives in the county it improves everybody’s quality of life.”
Supervisor Patrick Miles, District 34, said the 2019 budget prioritizes issues that use taxpayers’ money effectively and prevent higher costs in the future. Further, he said the budget illustrates “resiliency.”
“It captures the idea of prevention and building people’s ability to cope with challenges so that they can be successful,” Miles said.
With amendments adopted by the Personnel and Finance Committee Nov. 7, the operating budget totals $558.56 million and the capital budget totals $71.45 million.
The budget decreases taxes on an average home by $8.10. Under the executive's spending plan, a home valued at $285,000 would have seen county taxes drop $12.
Charles Hicklin, the county’s chief financial officer and controller, said this is the first time a county budget has reduced property taxes since 2000.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi included a massive $18 million plan in his budget proposal to address flooding prevention, including $2 million to improve water flow by removing sediment and weeds from the Yahara chain. Board members added to it with a $1 million measure to improve water flow in the Yahara River.
Additionally, the board added a $12,500 measure to begin building a model of the amount of phosphorus flowing into area waters. The recommendation was one of several approved by the county’s Healthy Farms, Healthy Lakes Taskforce.
Parisi called the 2019 spending plans “outstanding.”
“I look forward to signing the budget ASAP so that we can get to work on our new and ongoing initiatives to reform our criminal justice system, improve mental health outcomes, address homelessness, maintain our infrastructure and protect our environment,” Parisi said in a statement.
The budget adds a total of $6 million to the county’s affordable housing fund. An amendment sponsored by Supervisors Heidi Wegleitner, District 2, and Bill Clausius, District 19, doubled the $3 million Parisi included in the executive proposal.
“Every day there are families and individuals who are struggling because they just don’t have the income to make ends meet and they’re choosing between food and rent and heat,” Wegleitner said. “With more access to affordable housing, we can help to support those families and make them more likely to thrive.”
The budget allocates $350,000 in initiatives that aim to reduce the jail population, including pre-trial assessment for offenders, bail monitoring and a stress test review of the entire criminal justice system. A commitment to reducing the jail population is more pressing following last year’s approval in the budget of a $76 million jail consolidation project that will reduce the jail beds available by 10 percent.
Several areas of the budget focus on the county’s youth population. It adds three Neighborhood Intervention Program members, including one dedicated to working with young women who may be at risk of sex trafficking.
In the wake of an increase in juvenile crime, Supervisor Dorothy Krause, District 27, emphasized that areas outside of Madison need resources for youth involved in negative behavior. She proposed an amendment, which ultimately failed, expressing the county’s commitment to support a new program for Fitchburg youth.
“I believe that the kids are feeling abandoned and neglected by government and by society in general,” Krause said. “They a feel as though they’re told in endless ways how useless they are and not worthy, so they feel free to act out.”
Supervisor Matt Veldran, District 7, previously offered the amendment adding two of the three new NIP positions. He said the intention is to expand staffing into areas surrounding Madison and engage youth before before they are involved in the criminal justice system.
Additionally, the budget adds $30,000 to purchase a van for transportation to county parks and $30,000 for violence prevention at La Follette High School.
Few amendments are proposed on the County Board floor during budget deliberations as most of the proposed changes occur during committee meetings. Supervisors did approve an amendment Monday that added language stating that the Department of Human Services will ensure clean needle replacement access is maintained at 2018 levels and study expanding access to the western part of Dane County and other regions.
In the area of mental health, the budget includes a $320,000 expansion of an emergency mobile mental health crisis program created two years ago and coordinated by Journey Mental Health.
It also includes $25,000 for the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness to continue crisis intervention training for local law enforcement and community organizations that work with vulnerable populations and $125,000 to to support programs through the local nonprofit Safe Communities.