County deficits loom
Budget shortfall could be $4.4 million, says Palmer
Marathon County Finance Director Kristi Palmer on Monday announced the county in a “worst case scenario” can anticipate running a $4.4 million deficit this year with a $7 million deficit looming in next year’s budget.
In a presentation to the county board’s Human Resources, Finance and Property Committee, she said this year’s deficit is the combined result of lower than budgeted property and sales tax, as well as other revenues.
Palmer said the county budgeted to receive $50.6 million in property taxes this year, but will, if her forecast holds, receive only $50.2 million. The county budgeted $13.5 million in sales tax receipts but, according to Palmer, may only receive $11.9 million. The revenue slippage is worst in the “miscellaneous” category. The county budgeted $17.2 million, but now expects only $15.5 million.
“I’m hoping it will get better,” Palmer said.
This year, the county bud- geted for a three percent increase in employee wages and a five percent increase in health insurance premiums. Next year’s deficit is expected to increase when the wage bump is pencilled in at 2 percent but the health insurance increase is expected to be 9 percent.
Palmer said total benefits for county employees continue to increase as a percentage of wages. This year, the county will pay $66.1 million in all benefi ts which represents 29.8 percent of salaries. Next year’s benefits are expected to cost $68.3 million, which calculates to 30.8 percent of wages.
The county’s projected deficits will occur as property taxes are projected to increase by a percent or two over the next several years, depending on new construction in the county. The county’s tax rate is expected to continue to fall each year through 2024.
Supervisors called on Palmer to provide monthly tabulations to show where county revenues and expenditures are relative to the county budget.
In other business, the committee considered approving legislation that would allow county taxpayers to fail to meet property tax payment deadlines without an interest penalty.
The help for taxpayers, enabled through a state law, would happen in only municipalities that would agree to the program. To date, the City of Wausau is the lone municipality asking the county to consider waiving late property tax interest penalties.
Committee members passed a motion calling on county administration to gather more information about the proposal.