Oneida county tax payers will see a 2.4 percent increase on their tax bill come December
At their regular monthly meeting last Tuesday, supervisors agreed to raise the county tax levy by $353,559. Last year the total general property tax levy was $14,951,089 with a projected increase to $15,304,648 for 2014.
In 2013 property owners paid $223 per $100,000 of property value into county coffers, while this year that will increase by $8 to $231. Not since 2009 has the levy increased for the county. In fact, since 2010, tax levy hikes have stayed stagnant or even slightly dropped. Projected expenses for the county are expected to be $51,382,221 for 2014.
However, this year’s increases in proposed budgets from department heads spiked the levy to more than $600,000 over last year. It took close to five hours of debate during a public hearing held before the regular county board meeting to whittle this number down to $353,559.
“This has been the most difficult budget cycle we have been through,” said Ted Cushing, chairman of the board. “We looked at any way to get below the $600,000 that we were over. We had to make some difficult decisions to get to this budget.”
And those difficult decisions continued on Tuesday morning when department heads joined in the discussion on how their budgets were affected by cuts.
Shellie Holmes, director of the Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence, made an impassioned plea to the board to reinstate $15,000 that was cut from her budget.
“In 10 years we have not asked for more from this board,” Holmes said. “This money is used in life or death situations. It literally keeps our doors open.”
That plea resulted in the board looking at $23,000 that has been in the budget since the 1980s. It is part of a payment made by mining companies back then to explore land in Oneida County for minerals. The money was vaguely tagged “for the betterment of future generations.”
However, supervisor Bob Martini wanted to use that money to expand broadband within the county. He explained in a handout how the $23,000 could be used as seed money to generate other funds by way of matching grants. His focus was to expand broadband into the second home market. “That money was earmarked for Oneida County citizens and I can’t think of any way Oneida County citizens would benefit more than having broadband county-wide,” he said.
Supervisor Jerry Shidell made a motion to split the $23,000, giving $15,000 to Tri-County and putting $8,000 toward reducing the tax levy. “This (broadband) committee will always be coming to us for money,” he said. “I’m not going to be responsible to the 36,000 citizens in this county on voting for funding broadband for second home owners. Those people come up here to get away from the hectic city life and if they want it, they’ll find it. This should be funded by private companies who want to expand broadband in this county.”
Supervisor Tom Rudolph disagreed with both suggestions. “This money was generated from Oneida County lands from mining exploration,” he said. “Both needs are legitimate, but neither is benefiting future generations. It would only benefit current residents. To use the money either way would violate what the county board intended back in 1987.”
Shidell’s motion failed and the board voted to use the $23,000 for the expansion of broadband. Those voting against that were Rudolph, Shidell, Jim Intrepidi and Greg Oettinger.
Then supervisor Bob Metropulos made a motion to put $80,000 back in the budget, that he said was found “as a windfall” from the ambulance fund. The board voted to take $15,000 from that to augment funding Tri-County.
Another point of concern for supervisor Jack Martinson was a $100,000 across-the-board cut to the sheriff’s budget. “I’m appalled at this,” he said. “There are programs cut here that we need. We should vote to put some of this back in the budget.”
The board did agree to continue funding $34,000 to the Minocqua Police Department dispatch operations; $4,000 for the D.A.R.E. program; $2,500 for the dive team; and $10,000 for ATV, snowmobile and boat patrols. Still, the sheriff’s budget saw a cut of more than $49,000.
Other adjustments to the budget included:
• $2.2 million for road construction, particularly paving a large portion of Cty. Y.
• $291,600 to the Human Service Center to increase the wages of private caregivers throughout the county. These facilities have not seen a pay increase since 2006 and care for individuals who are mentally and physically challenged, and have nowhere to live.
• $10,000 was put back in the budget to promote tourism.
• $150,000 to fix the boilers in the courthouse.
The $1.5 million to reinstate all these expenses will come from the county’s general fund which on Oct. 31 included a balance of $16,849,779.