Eau Claire County Courthouse

Eau Claire County’s operating budget and tax levy will increase in 2020.

The Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors approved the proposed budget for next year during its meeting Tuesday night.

The operating budget will total $123.99 million. That number represents an increase of about 9% compared to the projected 2019 budget of about $113 million. The 2020 tax levy, meaning the amount of money collected from county taxpayers, will equal $35.8 million, an increase of about 5.2% compared to $34 million this year.

The county tax rate will go up slightly to $4.09 per $1,000 of equalized valuation, an increase of 0.7% from $4.06 in 2019.

Residents' tax bills are calculated based on assessed valuation. According to the city of Eau Claire finance department, property taxpayers living in the city of Eau Claire and Eau Claire County will see their tax rate for county purposes increase from $3.75 per $1,000 of assessed value to $3.89. County taxes on a $150,000 home will increase by $20.73, or 3.68%.

The budget approval occurred about 10:35 p.m. and the meeting was adjourned about 15 minutes before the deadline of 11 p.m. that would have resulted in the board reconvening Wednesday afternoon.

The board went through proposed budgets for every county department and several community agencies, stopping if there were questions or clarifications. The most amount of time was spent on the Department of Human Services, with about 20 minutes of discussion.

A few supervisors inquired about contracted service expenditures at DHS. The department budgeted to spend $12.3 million on contracted services in 2019 but will end up spending an estimated $17 million this year.

In 2020, DHS will budget to spend $14.85 million on contracted services, and supervisor Jerry Wilkie asked if that number is realistic. DHS Director Diane Cable said the budgeted costs are realistic because of several positive changes this year, including advancements in child welfare and behavioral health; the development of an outpatient clinic; the advancement of a Comprehensive Community Services program to help people with mental health and substance abuse challenges; and shifting contracts to provide more services within DHS rather than third parties.

“By building our internal services, it’s helping to support and offset costs in other areas and to be able to provide those earlier interventions, which is why we feel that we can present the budget that we presented,” Cable said.

Earlier in the meeting, Supervisor Stella Pagonis withdrew an amendment affecting new and vacant positions within DHS. Pagonis plans to bring the amendment as a resolution during the Dec. 3 County Board meeting.

Also, a proposal by DHS to increase fees at the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Eau Claire was not voted on due to a county code technicality. The proposal was not reviewed by the Finance and Budget Committee before going to the County Board, something that must occur before a vote on fee increases.

Other business

• The board rejected an amendment that would have reduced the number of additional correctional officers hired in 2020 from four to two. The Finance and Budget Committee recommended funds to hire four additional officers at the Eau Claire County Jail. After about 40 minutes of discussion, the board voted 16-12 against the amendment.

• The board approved an amendment to move two policy statements to a future agenda of the County Board for further deliberation.

• The board approved an amendment to increase the county’s 2020 debt service levy by $215,562, bringing the overall levy to $11,555,844.

• The board approved an ordinance amending the 1982 official zoning district boundary map for the town of Washington.

• The board appointed Dr. Terrence Miskulin to a five-year term on the Eau Claire County Board of Health, replacing Dr. Blair Johnson. Miskulin owns Oakwood Hills Family Dental in Eau Claire.

The next regular County Board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 3.