The breakdown

Members of the Barron County Board of Supervisors have taken a “first blush” look at a proposed 2021 county budget that totals nearly $70 million (including all funding sources), and about $22,200,000 of locally-financed costs.

The budget was reviewed at the Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, Executive Committee meeting. It now moves on to the full County Board for consideration.

According to County Administrator Jeff French and Finance Director Jodi Busch, budget totals for this year don’t include federal supports for additional costs incurred by the Health and Human Services Department due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To date, (the county has not) heard of any COVID-related expenses that will not be reimbursable,” Busch said in a Tuesday, Sept. 8, email response to the News-Shield.

During the next two months, the budget process will move through a series of steps, most of which are dictated by state law. The county must publish a proposed budget by Oct. 14, approve it later in the month, and place it before the taxpayers in a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, 2020.

Only one new job is contained in the budget, a new patrol officer’s position with the Sheriff’s Department that would replace the current patrol/recreation officer. The change will allow the present recreation officer, Deputy Jeff Wolfe, to work on recreation matters full-time. Much of the position will be state-funded, according to county officials.

French said he told the Executive Committee that the new spending plan “is a rock solid budget, with the county mill rate going down (and local property taxes rising just under $179,000 – see infographic accompanying this story).

“We will take the (levy increase) limit that’s allowable by the state, and we will be funding the new position with 80 percent DNR dollars.”

The surprising thing, so far, is that the new budget won’t be adversely influenced by the coronavirus pandemic, French said.

County valuations are up and sales tax revenue has been “holding up” during the busy tourist season, despite COVID-19, French said.

But the real test will come next spring, he added.

Counties have been warned for months that state revenues will be sharply lower by the time the Legislature begins to address the next two-year budget in 2021.

If state revenue does drop, especially for health and human services, the county needs to set aside funding to cushion the impact, French said.