Chippewa County Courthouse

Chippewa County Courthouse

CHIPPEWA FALLS — The Chippewa County Board on Thursday approved the 2020 budget, which calls for a 2.13% increase in the tax levy.

The $78.73 million budget passed on a 10-2 vote. Board Chairman Leigh Darrow and former Chairman Jared Zwiefelhofer cast the votes against it.

“I always vote against the budget,” Darrow said after the meeting. “I think we spend too much money.”

Zwiefelhofer declined to comment about his vote.

None of the supervisors spoke at the budget hearing before the vote. There also weren’t any amendment proposals; last year the board decided to raise spending by $200,000 at the budget hearing, earmarking those dollars for winter road maintenance. The $10-per-vehicle wheel tax, which was created to pay off a debt in the winter road maintenance account, will expire Jan. 1.

County Administrator Randy Scholz was pleased the budget had such widespread support.

“It’s always a long, hard process,” Scholz said after the meeting. “We meet with every department head at least once, and many twice. There wasn’t anyone from the public here, so hopefully that indicates they think we’re doing a good job.”

The levy will increase $407,000, from $19.14 million to $19.54 million. Last year, the tax levy saw a similar increase of 2.18%.

The overall tax rate decreased by 5.8%, from $3.64 per $1,000 valuation in 2019 to $3.43 next year. Scholz pointed out that means a decrease in the property tax bill; a home valued at $150,000 will pay $31.50 less in property taxes in the county portion of their bill than this year.

Supervisor Tom Thornton said he considered presenting an amendment similar to last year, asking the budget to be raised by about $150,000 to keep the tax rate similar to the 2019 rate, but ultimately chose not to bring the amendment forward.

“Something needs to be done on the state-imposed caps on the budget,” Thornton said.

Property taxes make up 25% of the overall budget, with the rest coming from state and federal dollars and grants. The overall budget of $78.73 million is down slightly from $82.17 million in 2019.

The county’s equalized value climbed 8.4%, or about $441 million, Scholz wrote in a budget address earlier this week.

Also at the meeting, highway commissioner Brian Kelley gave an update on road projects that were completed in 2019.

Chippewa County collects a half-percent sales tax, which will raise $5.7 million in 2019. By county ordinance, those dollars must go toward a property tax credit — this year it is $1.5 million — and those dollars cannot be used to pay salaries or benefits. The county spends the rest of the sales tax revenue on capital purchases, from building repairs to purchasing new vehicles and computers, to highway projects.

The 2020 budget includes spending $1.3 million of the sales tax revenue on highway and bridge projects, $400,000 on jail upgrades including a new washer and dryer, and $215,000 on IT equipment replacement.