Lower property tax levy also passes
By LINDA MCALPINE of the Daily News Staff
Little was said Thursday night as an overwhelming majority of Washington County supervisors voted to approve the county’s $114 million operating budget for 2014, but the only two to vote against it had plenty to say after the vote.
No one spoke for or against the proposed budget during the public hearing portion of Thursday’s County Board meeting.
The property tax rate went down, as well, to $2.86 per $1,000 of assessed property value. At that rate, the average county tax bill for a $200,000 home will be $572.64, which is $3.16 less than the 2013 average county tax bill.
“This is the fourth year in a row that Washington County will reduce property taxes without reducing essential county services,” County Administrative Coordinator Douglas Johnson said. “To put that in perspective, the countywide tax levy in 2014 will be lower than it was in 2006 and every year since then.”
Twenty-six supervisors voted to approve the budget as proposed. Two supervisors cast no votes — Michael Miller and Michael Bassill, both of West Bend. Supervisors Timothy Michalak of Hartford and Mark McCune of the town of Erin did not attend.
After the meeting, which lasted roughly 20 minutes, Miller said he had several reasons for not approving the budget as proposed.
“I pay taxes like everyone else and I can appreciate the lower tax rate, but I don’t want to see the county getting hurt in the future because of it,” he said, noting that the reduced levy set for 2014 will be the starting point for the state levy limit in 2015 and beyond.
“I was also upset with the way the Finance Committee handled the capital improvement requests from the departments. It’s like the requests were completely ignored,” Miller said.
He said he also took issue with taking money “from the undesignated general fund” to help fund the property tax cut.
In 2013, the county dipped into its undesignated general fund to the tune of $500,000 to accomplish the property tax cut, and it did the same this year.
“We can’t say we have a balanced budget if we’re taking money from somewhere else to pay expenses,” Miller said.
Supervisor Michael Bassill shared some of the same concerns as Miller when it came to voting against the budget.
“I don’t understand why some departments always get budget increases,” Bassill said. “If they know they’re going to get more money, it doesn’t encourage them to be efficient.”
Bassill was also unhappy with the meeting.
According to a rule established two years ago, supervisors were to present any proposed amendments to the budget to the Finance Committee well in advance of Thursday’s hearing and vote.
“That means there’s no chance to change or question things from the floor during the board meeting. It all gets done in committee with little public input,” Bassill said.
It was the last budget meeting Johnson will take part in, as he will retire in December.