Don’t get tunnel vision on county budget
As Taylor County board members continue to chip away at the budget process, they must work to avoid getting tunnel vision on potential increases in ambulance costs.
In recent years there has been a shift away from an on-call, primarily volunteer model of delivering emergency medical services to one that relies on more fulltime equivalent staff. This shift has resulted in skyrocketing personnel costs.
The hope is that a new contract being worked on between Aspirus and the county will help level off those costs and bring needed stability to county taxpayers who pay a subsidy to cover shortfalls from what fees charged to ambulance users do not cover.
Unlike the general operations parts of the county budget, the levy for ambulance services is not factored into the state-imposed levy cap, but is added on at the end. This has a direct impact on the taxes paid by county residents.
There are many on the county board who are concerned about what increasing ambulance costs will mean for county taxpayers. Some board members have commented about the need to cut elsewhere in the budget, beyond what has been the customary 0% departmental increase goal set earlier this summer, in order to reduce the impact of the ambulance increases.
This fiscal responsibility in looking out for taxpayers is commendable. However, it is ultimately counterproductive when looking at the overall county budget. Throughout the budget process county board members must avoid getting tunnel vision in focusing on costs in one area. Instead they need to keep the big picture in mind of maintaining the quality of existing services.
Maintaining the status quo when it comes to government services shouldn’t be viewed as an unaffordable luxury.
One of the challenges facing this year’s budget process is that there was a large jump in the county’s equalized value with property values going up dramatically in some areas. While this is always unsettling, it is also necessary to take a bigger picture approach and realize that while the county’s overall equalized value increased, the increases were more or less uniform throughout the county with only relatively minor changes in the percentage each municipality has in the overall taxable value of the county as a whole.
Beyond this, the county has received good news there will be no increases for health insurance premiums, versus the 11% that was built into the preliminary budget. This frees up about $275,000 and is in addition to changes made following an extensive cost-cutting review of departmental budgets made this past spring which should help lower cost for taxpayers.
As Taylor County leaders continue the budget review process and pass a budget next month, they must focus first on the service needs of the entire community rather than get tunnel vision on the price tag in one area.