Board adopts 2014 planDouglas County has a plan to provide services, pay for repairs to County Highway T in Wascott and begin paying off a loan that allowed the county to reduce interest and pay off its debt to the Wisconsin Retirement System.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Douglas County has a plan to provide services, pay for repairs to County Highway T in Wascott and begin paying off a loan that allowed the county to reduce interest and pay off its debt to the Wisconsin Retirement System.
The Douglas County Board on Tuesday adopted its $50 million 2014 budget. The budget includes a 3.25 percent increase in the tax levy. Taxpayers will support about $15.8 million of the county budget.
The majority of the increase — 2.25 percent — allows the county to pay its loan to the Wisconsin Board of Commissioners of Public Lands for payment of the county’s unfunded pension liability, paid off last year.
“Any budget is a policy, and it’s one of the most important policies … the board will pass in any year,” said County Administrator Andy Lisak. “It should be true to the mission of the county. Our mission is to provide high quality services with access to all, to create partnerships and strengthen existing partnerships, and be good stewards of the resources.”
While the budget covers one year, Lisak said it sets the stage for future years.
Among the challenges facing the county in 2014 are interest rates that remain flat, a decline in the occupational tax revenue, which appears to have stabilized, new construction at only 0.55 percent, and the competitiveness of the jail market affecting revenue generated by the county jail.
However that balances against an increase in sales tax revenue to about $3.3 million, land sales are improving and no significant increase in employee health care costs.
Supervisor Mark Liebaert said the county received more good news last week during the Forestry Department’s timber sale.
While the county was placed under quarantine Aug. 13 to inhibit the spread of emerald ash borer after the beetle was discovered in Superior’s North End, the county sold about $1.2 million, about half of which was hardwood.
The invasive species, first discovered in 2002 near Detroit, has killed millions of ash trees in 20 states and two Canadian provinces. Douglas County’s forest, the largest county-managed forest in Wisconsin, is the first forest economy to face the beetle in Wisconsin.
“It did not seem that emerald ash borer had any effect,” Liebaert said. “We had very competitive bidding.”
After the discovery of emerald ash borer in Superior last summer, the Forestry Department hosted a meeting for people in the timber industry in September to explain the regulatory environment of the quarantine placed on the county Aug. 13.
The Douglas County Forestry Department held a meeting in September for people in the timber industry to help them understand the regulatory environment created by the quarantine, which restricts when hardwoods can be moved and the timeframe for processing the timber, managed by contractual agreement.
“Everybody was frightened I think in the beginning because of all the quarantine stuff, but the quarantine has windows in there that we’ll be able to move logs off the forest to the mills and the mills will be able to use it in their products,” Liebaert said. “They were afraid in the beginning, but it should be all right.”
The self-sustaining forestry budget is expected to supplement the overall county budget with about $758,000 in 2014.