Douglas County's 2019 budget is headed to the full County Board late next month.
The county's Administration Committee approved the spending and revenue plan without any changes after the Executive Committee recommended cuts and revenue increases to close the gap on an estimated $1 million deficit as the county wrestles with rising costs for Health and Human Services.
The county's almost $17.4 million levy will be supported by an average mil rate of $4.87 on average, down slightly from last year.
A growing number of institutional places have the county facing a budget shortfall this year and increasing funding for Health and Human Services to meet the need next year.
With a tax levy freeze in place, that meant cutting about $300,000 from highway projects, increasing revenue projections by $100,000 for sales tax collections, increasing the transfer from forestry by $100,000 and increasing the share employees pay for health care - from 12-15 percent of the cost - on top of a 4 percent increase in the cost.
"Remember, the health insurance actually went up 12 percent; we are only charging the employees 4 percent," County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said. "The overall cost went up 12 percent. We decided to do that in three steps ... so the we're asking employees to pay 3 percent more" for their share of the costs."
But for some supervisors on the committee, the double-whammy was a concern.
"The employees have been put on their backs," Supervisor Steven Long said. "When you do raise their insurance rates, that's money they never get back so you might as well give them a pay cut because that's what you're doing."
Supervisor Rosemary Lear questioned what impact the health insurance changes - despite a 1 percent pay increase - would have on employees take home pay.
The impact for individual employees would depend on their specific circumstances, said Candy Holm Anderson, county finance director. She said she would run a sampling of employees to show what impact it would have.
Employees will receive a 1 percent pay increase in 2019 to implement the next steps in the county's wage and market study.
"Actually, our wage and market study consultants strongly recommended we move it 2 percent, but we just can't afford that," Administrator Ann Doucette said.
While some supervisors questioned borrowing or using reserves to address some of the issues, the committee never gave serious consideration to those moves.
Doucette cautioned it could compound the county's problems and other supervisors agreed.
Moving forward, Doucette said county departments will again take a deep look at the services they provide and the cost for those services that aren't mandated by Wisconsin to address the ongoing tax levy freezes imposed by the state.
The committee anticipates meeting next June to evaluate the state of the county's budget amid ongoing challenges.
"What the county needs is to find long-term, sustainable strategies," Doucette said. "We need sustainable revenues and we need to make some cuts that are sustainable."
Lear questioned the sustainability of the forestry transfer, which exceeds $1.6 million for 2019.
"We have the biggest sale we've ever had coming up coming up in October," Liebaert said. "The revenues that we've already dedicated toward this, we have not made up in two of the last five years."
The County Board considers the adopting the budget Oct. 30.