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Dane County Board passes 2022 budget focused on mental health, housing, environment

Dane County Board passes 2022 budget focused on mental health, housing, environment

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The Dane County Board on Monday passed its 2022 budget, which leans on federal COVID-19 relief dollars to fund initiatives focused on addressing homelessness, responding to the pandemic, cutting the county’s carbon emissions and creating a center to respond to mental health crises.

Absent from the budget is additional funding for the massive Dane County Jail project. An amendment to put another $23 million in borrowing toward the new jail failed to make it out of committee. Board members didn’t consider the measure Monday night.

The largest new expense in the budget is $10 million for the construction of a Crisis Triage Center, a local alternative to jail or a hospital emergency room for people experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises.

Other big-ticket items include $5.25 million for buying a hotel to convert to affordable housing for the homeless, $1.5 million for the creation of another tiny house village, $5 million for trailers for fuel for the county’s natural-gas-powered vehicles and $3.2 million for eight more natural-gas-powered snowplows.

To respond to the pandemic, the budget also includes $5.8 million toward creating 19 new positions dedicated to COVID-19 response, $574,000 for ultraviolet air-purification systems in 20 county facilities and $5.25 million for unknown pandemic expenses.

The spending package totals $754.8 million, or about $7 million more than proposed in Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s budget. It relies on more than $27.6 million in American Rescue Plan funding, which made funding new initiatives easier in the tough economic landscape created by the pandemic.

“We were able to build on the proposed budget to make a good budget even better, including additional funds for criminal justice reform, supporting the most vulnerable and protecting the environment,” County Board Chair Analiese Eicher said.

The $660.6 million operating budget and $94.2 million capital budget increase the property tax levy by 4.4%, increasing taxes on the average home by $67.87. The County Board approved the two budgets and the levy increase on a near-unanimous vote. The budgets head to Parisi’s desk next for his signature.

Sups. Jeff Weigand and Tim Rockwell voted against all three measures related to the 2022 budget. They were joined by Sup. Dave Ripp in voting against the operating budget. Weigand and Rockwell said the County Board should be reducing taxes on residents, not raising them.

“This budget raises taxes on the hardworking people of Dane County,” Rockwell said.

Personnel and Finance Committee Chair Patrick Miles noted that this year’s county budget process was “one of the smoothest,” with approval of the budgets in less than two hours. It’s unusual for the budget to get approved in just one night, let alone just a few hours.

Wage increases

During the budget process, controversy arose over whether to make a roughly 6% raise for county employees “more equitable” by providing a boost for the lowest-wage earners.

Parisi had proposed a 3% raise for nonunion employees at the beginning of 2022 and another 3% raise in July 2022. County employees did not get raises last year.

Some County Board members wanted the raises to be a flat dollar increase, with a $1-an-hour raise at the start of the year and another $1.03 partway through to benefit the lowest earners. Others wanted to keep the percentage increase, but provide a boost to the lowest-paid county employees.

On Friday, Parisi and Eicher proposed a $550,000 compromise in which those making $33.34 an hour or less would get the $1 increase, while everyone else would get the 3% increases.

“The amendment is simple. If it’s more beneficial for an employee to receive a flat wage increase, that’s what they will receive — a pair of flat rate increases in 2022,” Parisi wrote to board members Friday encouraging their support. “Those above the median income threshold will continue to receive a 6% increase.”

That proposal was approved on a near-unanimous vote with one abstention from Miles, whose wife works for the county. The change was funded with federal COVID dollars.

Other amendments

The largest amendments were a $1 million boost to the tiny house project and $3.25 million for the hotel to convert to affordable housing. Both were funded with capital borrowing.

Another minor change Monday took $25,000 away from the Sheriff’s Office by delaying the start date for a new training deputy position. The money instead went to boosting funds from $50,000 to $75,000 for updating a plan to address homelessness in the county. The addition brings the county’s contribution to the new plan up to the same level that the city of Madison will likely contribute.

Other amendments, approved by committees last week, include:

  • Eliminating Huber fees for inmates who participate in the work release program.
  • $200,000 to fund three part-time positions focused on a public health approach to violence prevention.
  • $500,000 to make parks more accessible.
  • $500,000 to buy a conservation easement in an undeveloped 80-acre property on Madison’s East Side if a community organization or another municipality can get an accepted offer on the land, known as the Voit farm.

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