The Burnett County Board of Supervisors met in regular session on Thursday, Oct. 21, and while they had plenty of discussion on recent proposals for changes to rules regarding campgrounds, they punted on the full resolution and deferred two key parts back to committee, due to unspecified legal challenges.

But the board also had a preliminary presentation on the upcoming proposed annual budget, courtesy County Administrator Nate Ehalt, followed by a public hearing.

In general, Ehalt said the financial state of the county is solid, citing the steady tax rates and general solid budgeting that has become expected.

“We’ve had a fairly flat mill rate over the last ten years,” Ehalt said, adding that it will continue, in spite of their commitment to a new public safety facility.

Overall, the proposed 2022 county budget totals $31.47 million, which includes an overall tax levy of $12.138 million, including debt service and library funding, resulting in a mill rate of 3.98, which is indeed comparable to rates over the last decade, but up slightly over 2021’s 3.54 mill rate.

That new 3.98 mill rate means a $100,000 property would have a $398 tax bill from the county, on top of other assessments, such as school district, municipality and technical college taxes.

Ehalt also stressed a commitment to employee retention and making strides to keep county employment desirable, to help with job retention, citing a plan for advanced ‘step movements’ with staff, and up to a 2.5% raise value within employee merit ranges, again, to help with staff retention.

He also pointed out modifications to employee entitlements, as well as improvements in several areas of health and welfare for employees – highlighted by generally flat health care costs to the county, while adding up to a $500 reimbursement for things like homeopathic medicine options, acupuncture and massage, unlike in the past.

“But we want to continue to make investments in our staff,” he added. “To make sure staff knows they are critical to our operations and valued by our county board.”

Ehalt said he planned to keep any tax levy increases under $50,000 for 2022, and they had several structural changes that helped them achieve that, including a 1.074% increase in new construction, allowing over $87,000 in taxes under the state’s levy limit formula, adding net new construction to the levy.

He also addressed the big ticket items, such as keeping a commitment to invest at least $1-million on road maintenance and construction, as well as assurances that this budget is not an anomaly, even with the financing costs of a new $30 million-plus jail, with a goal of having similarly flat or slight increases for the year after.

That new public safety facility/jail complex planning continues to move forward, and Ehalt said that the new budget reflects those commitments, which includes the costs of securing a $30 million general obligation bond, and includes the necessary $1.8 million debt payments, as the county moves forward with a bond rating in the coming weeks, for consideration in a few weeks.

Overall, the new budget seemed less than controversial, with a few questions coming up during the hearing and discussion about things like library funding commitments, which have been adjusted, as well as efforts to possibly use so-called ‘carbon credits’ as a long-term funding enhancement possibility, leveraging the county’s abundance of forests land as credits sold to businesses to offset their own environmental impacts. But after review, Ehalt said they will revisit the idea in the coming months for possible consideration next year.

“It’s definitely an idea that may allow us some increased revenue in the coming years,” Ehalt stated on the carbon tax credits.

He also went over several changes to staffing and positions changes, hopefully resulting in a dramatic reduction in overtime costs.

One continued bright spot for the county is a solid increase in sales taxes collected in the past year, as the projections suggest a $1.6 million to possibly $1.8 million final collection.

“Compared to two years ago … it’s nearly double what was collected,” Ehalt stated.

The board had few questions beyond the library and a few jail financing concerns, much of which will become more clear next month, as the board considers a bond sale, after their bond assurance rating is revealed.

As for what’s next, now that the proposed budget has been published and had a public hearing, the full county board will review the final proposal and consider an approval on Tuesday, Nov. 9.

In other board business:

• A controversial portion of a resolution to adopt a revised Land Use Ordinance, specifically to chapters 30 and 45 addressing campgrounds and amendments to limit the number of sites was withdrawn, for now, after concerns were raised shortly before the meeting, due to legal questions that the specific limits may require a separate public hearing process on the two amendments. However, other changes were approved that will be highlighted in the coming weeks.

There was also a discussion on possibly considering a ‘density formula’ instead of the hard limit on number of sites, as it might better control growth and expansion of existing or proposed campgrounds, while also making it relevant to the actual acreage used for such a development.

• Board chair Don Taylor said that committee discussion have led to an incentive program to get employees vaccinated, noting that covering the costs of time off for employees who are vaccinated against Covid but are so-called ‘breakthrough’ cases of infections.

“Getting a vaccination is a personal choice, I get that,” Taylor said, adding that if an employee does get vaccinated and still gets Covid “… We’ll cover your time off.”

• Taylor also said that discussions on separating jailer and dispatch duties at a new jail is being considered with the planning for a new facility, but said that “any real discussions … are at least a year away.”

He did say that the new design would lend itself to either option.

• Taylor also praised county staff for working on getting tax deeded properties back on the tax rolls, and said they’re “working on cleaning it up.”

• In a positive note for residents who live on the Clam River Flowage, Taylor noted that neighboring Polk County has agreed to take over ownership and maintenance of the aging Clam Falls Dam, noting that Gov. Evers’ signed off on a $2 million allocation in the latest state budget, with another $750,000 in maintenance payments from Northwest Wisconsin Electric, which currently owns the dam but wanted to remove it for cost savings.