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Douglas County expenses slated to rise 11% in 2023

Bringing employee wages in line with the market is a driving factor in the need to spend more in next year's budget, officials said.

Douglas County Forest sign 1
A sign welcomes people to the Douglas County Forest near Solon Springs on Oct. 18, 2021.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Officials presented the Douglas County Administration Committee a no-frills budget for 2023 during its annual budget review Thursday, Sept. 22.

That means there will be no additional staff or new initiatives in Douglas County government services next year.

However, with a $157,000 cap on the levy to cover their operating budget, county staff sharpened their pencils to pay for $568,000 in additional personnel costs and cover the increased costs of health insurance, property insurance, energy and contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System.

The additional costs created a $740,000 expenditure gap that was closed by cutting miscellaneous expenses, eliminating new or expanded positions and decreasing contracted services.

The only position that was being considered for expansion was a part-time to full-time position in the extension office. The position will remain part-time in 2023.

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“This position was full-time before COVID, and just because the way things were going — that office was empty — so the position was cut. We were just hoping to restore that,” Supervisor Sue Hendrickson said.

She would hate to lose the individual that holds the position because of their skills, she said.

"There are other positions that we could hire her for full-time," County Board Chair Mark Liebaert said. A bigger concern in extension for county farmers is the loss of an agricultural specialist after Jane Anklam retired this year.

Revenue projections for sales tax and the jail were increased to balance the county’s $65.7 million revenue and spending plan for 2023.

One area the county needs to focus on is revenue collected to house inmates for outside agencies. Liebaert said he’s asked the finance director, Bill Whiteside, and staff to look at the revenue the jail collects.

“That hasn’t increased as long as I’ve been chair … but every year we have an increase in the sheriff’s jail budget,” Liebaert said. “If we haven’t had an increase in what we charge, why not? Everything else has gone up.”

Supervisor Nick Baker said if the cost rises every year, the cost of housing inmates for other agencies should also increase.

“We have to make sure that it covers at least the variable cost,” Administrator Ann Doucette said. “That’s what we’re studying and have to determine.”

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"All departments are responsible for following up on revenues, whether it’s camping out in a county park or whatever charges,” Supervisor Alan Jaques said.

Across most departments, the driving factor behind increases was personnel costs after a study revealed many county salaries were below market rate.

Overall, the tax levy will increase by $789,388 for 2023, a 4.4% increase over last year, to pay for increased debt payments and operational expenses in 2023. Expenses increased 11% overall for 2023.

“It’s tougher and tougher every year,” Jaques said.

However, with almost 15% growth in the county’s valuation, Doucette said the county’s average tax rate will fall below $4 per $1,000 property value for the first time in more than a decade and many could still see their taxes go down in 2023.

The average tax rate for Douglas County for 2023 is $3.93. While city and village of Solon Springs residents will pay less than $4 per $1,000, people living in towns and most villages will pay more $4 per $1,000 of value.

The full county board will consider the 2023 budget at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 in the Government Center Boardroom.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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