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County passes budget last Tuesday

County passes budget last  Tuesday County passes budget last  Tuesday

The Marathon County Board of Supervisors approved a 2021 budget last week Tuesday after voting down an amendment to increase staffing in the district attorney’s office.

The $180 million budget calls for a $51.9 million property tax levy with a mil rate of $4.53 per thousand dollars of fair market property value. It is estimated that county property taxes on a median-priced $169,000 home will increase 2.3 percent or $17.01. Supervisor E.J. Stark, Rothschild, offered a budget amendment to end funding for the Safe Streets Options Program (SSTOP) to save $118,000 and cut the Start Right Program by $59,935 to pay for one attorney and a legal assistant in the district attorney’s office. The SSTOP program is a preplea program that offers people charged with repeat OWI an opportunity for treatment, but which, according to District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon, has not proven its effectiveness in cutting the rate of recidivism and, as of Nov. 4, is not being used by her office. The Start Right program, partially funded by private grants, helps at-risk families.

In a vote, supervisors defeated Stark’s motion. He received support from supervisors Becky Buch, Wausau, Chris Dickinson, Stratford, Richard Gumz, town of Holton, Donna Krause, Wausau, Jean Maszk, Mosinee, Arnold Schlei, town of Easton, and Tom Seubert, town of Day.

Board members, following the lead of county board chairman Kurt Gibbs, town of Cassel, agreed to study district attorney’s office staffing as part of a “systems” review of the county’s justice system.

Supervisors Brent Jacobson, Mosinee, and Matt Bootz said they had planned to try and amend the county budget to increase district attorney staffing, but agreed to withdraw a proposed budget amendment and support review of the justice system.

“Everyone needs to be working together,” Bootz told supervisors. “No one wins pitting department against department for funds.” The supervisor said the district attorney staffing issue should be figured out by June 1. Supervisor Stark, however, said that both the SSTOP and Stark Right programs had not been evaluated to show their effectiveness and could be cut without hurting service.

He said a minor cut to the $1.7 million Start Right program would be tolerable. “I don’t think the system would collapse if we deducted $59,000,” he said.

Stark said better funding for the district attorney’s office was long overdue. “The facts and data speak for themselves,” he said. “There is no reasonable basis not to fill those positions” in the district attorney’s office.

Gibbs said he opposed Stark’s motion because it was unclear without more research what were the top priorities in the justice system. At one point, he said, law enforcement said funding an improved county dispatch system was critical to the safety of law enforcement officers. He said a six month evaluation of the entire system was in order.

Supervisors Michelle Van Krey and William Harris, both of Wausau, spoke in support of OWI courts statewide to reduce recidivism.

Supervisor Tim Buttke, town of Stettin, spoke to defend the Start Right program as a way to reduce adverse childhood experiences that, later in people’s lives, cause social problems.

Kurt Gibbs