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Douglas County faces budget overrun, deficit

Douglas County has a million-dollar problem — two of them, in fact.

In 2018, Health and Human Services is projected to go over budget by about $1 million dollars. And the County has to figure out how to pay for a large request from the department to increase its budget by $1 million to fund placements of individuals and children into institutional care.

It's a trend that is expected to continue, according to Human Services staff.

"Please keep in mind that across-the-board cuts would put many of the priority services in jeopardy," said Ann Doucette, interim administrator for the county. "The same crisis that created the budget overage in Human Services is also affecting law enforcement ... the entire court system, including the District Attorney's Office and corporation counsel, in a negative way. Resources are already stretched thin in all these state-mandates areas."

With no relief in site from the state, Doucette said the board faces from tough choices due in large part to drugs and its related ramifications.

Doucette outlined several options that the county's Executive Committee will consider when it meets at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, in Room 207C of the Douglas County Courthouse.

"None of them are likable," Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said.

Among the options the committee could consider is presenting the voters with a referendum to increase the levy by $1 million; creating a wheel tax that could increase registration fees by up to $30 annually; increasing the contribution from forestry operations; cutting non-mandated services; eliminate planned wage increases; lay off staff; make across-the-board cuts; and increase projected sales tax revenue.

Douglas County's budgets have been relatively stagnant over the last several years because of state imposed levy freezes and declining state revenue.

"If the administration downstate doesn't change, we're looking at another four, five years of this," Liebaert said.

Supervisor Nick Baker, chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, noted that only 10 of Wisconsin's 72 have created a wheel tax, a proposal that would not sit well with Douglas County taxpayers.

"Someday, we may need that critically, and it's really gone," Baker said. "My personal feeling is — and I told Mark this — is that I think we should share this throughout the whole county budget, a little percentage to come up with that money." Baker said the county is already borrowing money to pay for highway maintenance.

Liebaert said in talking to Finance Director Candy Holm-Anderson about the current situation, he asked if things are as bad now as they were two years ago, about when the county made a one-time transfer from the forestry fund to make its budget work.

"She said it's worse," Liebaert said.