The Rusk County Board approved the 2020 levy of $8,835,124 during the at its Tuesday, Oct. 22 meeting. Also approved were two resolutions to hire additional positions in two departments.

The 2020 levy of $8,835,124 is a 7.76 percent, or $586,778, increase above the 2019 levy. The total revenues anticipated for 2020 are $24,914,485. Anticipated expenditures are $34,436,544 in the 2020 budget.

Finance Director Kitzie Winters said, “there are lots of grants and services the county does not have to levy for.”

Much of the increases were in four areas of the budget including the library, ambulance service, debt service and bridges. Without these areas, the budget would have increased $60,532.

In 2019 the county estimated an ambulance budget of $375,000 for six months of service. In 2020 with a full year of service the ambulance budget is $715,718. The highway department was allotted $300,000 to help maintain operations.

The 2020 budget includes $858,000 in proposed borrowing for a road project in 2020.

The levy rate per $1,000 equalization value for 2020 is $8.50. This is an 18.47 percent increase over the 2019 rate of $6.93 per $1,000 of equalized value

At the onset of establishing the 2020 budget through meetings with departments, Winters said over $2 million was cut from the budget. The 2019 budget anticipates departments being $97,824 over budget by the end of this year.

The estimated general fund balance by the end of 2019 will be $4,369,466.

During 2019 four county positions were reduced through attrition. The reduced positions included the register of deeds, land conservation and zoning, register in probate and by combining finance with the highway department accounting.

The 2020 approved budget allows for a one percent wage increase to general staff. Winters said in terms of insurance benefits, the county is not very competitive and because of that they were able to negotiate an increase in benefits of 5.1 percent.

The county is currently operating at 14.86 percent of $9,504,068 of its legal debt limit. In November the finance committee will meet to refinance the county loans and borrow for the 2019 budgeted projects and possible repairs.

Board of supervisors unanimously approved adding positions for a youth justice worker and a court coordinator. As a result in an increase in state funding, Health and Human Services Director Jeremy Jacobs told the board that the department received $110,000 to it’s annual budget and allowing for a reduced levy for his department. Jacobs wanted he additional funding to be allocated to the creation of the two new positions.

Jacobs said the department works hard to stay on the front end of families in crisis. The goal is “showing people that change is possible,” said Jacobs.

County Supervisor Chairman Dave Willingham said, “this is something we need to do and we’re blessed we have money to do it.”

County Supervisor Randy Tatur said, “Rusk County is a leader in being proactive in this problem.” Rusk County spends approximately $40,000 per year in out of family placement for children. Burnett County spends $80,000 per month and many other counties spend much more, according to Tatur.

The board of supervisors approved by a 15-1-1 role call vote on a request by District Attorney Annette Barna to make the contracted part-time paralegal position a full time position with benefits. The difference in the department’s budget for this requested change is $21,400.46.

The salaries of the district attorney and assistant district attorney are paid for by the state while it is the financial responsibility of the county supply adequate support staff.

The state recommends each county have 2.82 attorneys and the statistics, said Barna, show Rusk County is behind on support staff. In seeking additional help for her office, Barna said she requested an attorney from the state but was denied, being told it was more critical for additional support staff.

Barna told supervisors that case loads across the state are increasing in both the number of cases, but also the intensity and severity of the crimes.

When she began as district attorney, Barna said she inherited a backlog of cases under review so extensive some of the crimes were passing the statute of limitations. The number of cases currently under review has greatly reduced since she took office.

The current paralegal position is a contracted, 32-hour position without benefits. Retention of current employees and recruitment of future employees is of critical concern to Barna.

Board Supervisor Tony Hauser expressed concern for approving the request, arguing “there’s no guarantee we’ll find someone” if the current person leaves and suggested to instead change to position to a 40-hour contracted position.

According to Barna, in 2017 charged cases in Rusk County generated more than $92,000 in revenue for the county. Not getting caught up in the backlog of cases could result in some cases not being charged, which ultimately could mean a loss of revenue.

It could also result in a liability for the county if charges are not filed timely and crimes continue to take place.

Winters cautioned against making the change to a full time position; asking the supervisors where the funds will come from to pay for the change in the position.

County Supervisor Kathy Vacho supported the request saying, “the pendulum swings both ways, something has to be done.”

Barna said she fully supports the additions of staff in other departments, like the Sheriff’s Office and Health and Human Services because the positions are needed. However, those changes also affect her office. County supervisors approved the request to make the paralegal position a full time position.

County Forest Administrator Jeremy Koslowski requested the board purchase .02 acres of land for $1 at the Potato Lake Boat Landing. The landing was partially owned by the county and partially privately owned. The purchase will allow the county to make needed updates to the landing.

Richard Tuisl and Joe Baye presented to the board a community conversation for Westlake Enterprises at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday Oct. 31 at the Ladysmith Care Community in Ladysmith. This is an opportunity for employers, businesses, community leaders and the public to have a conversation about successful employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Supervisors approved amending the minor smoking ordinance to include vaping. The citation for underage tobacco smoking and vaping will be $200.50.

The Rusk Restorative Youth Program representatives Breanne Meyer and Cheyenne Makinia shared results from a recent compliance check on 31 businesses in Rusk County. Meyer and Makinia said the checks are to educate and make the community healthier and safer.

The next Rusk County Board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26.

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