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Guest Column - The Budget Process And Tax Rate

Door County strategic priority number two is to “exercise sound financial management and build the County’s fiscal strength while minimizing the property tax burden.”

Last month, while meeting with Door County Board Chairman Dan Austad and Vice Chairman Dave Lienau, we discussed how to rate Door County’s financial health. Vice Chairman Lienau asked me to research our mill rate to see where we are financially.

One of the best places to begin this research is the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. A check of their website found that Door County government has the eighth lowest tax rate among the 72 counties in Wisconsin. With a tax rate of $3.66 per one thousand dollars of assessed valuation, eight out of 72 counties is a good solid place to be ranked.

While all of Door County’s 30 plus departments contribute to Door County’s solid financial position, one department, in particular, is responsible for Door County’s overall financial management and spends the most time working to keep the rate reasonable. Door County’s Finance Department and its Director Shirley Scalish spend most of every year working on Door County’s budget. The budget is the document that establishes the amount that the county needs to levy. Approximately 25 million dollars of the budgeted revenues are raised through property taxes and are used to determine the county’s tax rate. The other part of the tax rate is equalized value of property in the county. The tax levy is divided by the equalized value to come up with tax rate. The remainder of budget revenues comes from intergovernmental fees for services, grants and direct fees.

To arrive at the County’s tax rate each year, the Finance Director and the Department staff begin work on Door County’s 72 million dollar expenditure budget in February. The Finance Director distributes worksheets to the departments for the capital improvement program, vehicle replacement and non- capital outlay.  In May, the Finance Director reviews the budget process with the Finance Committee.  In June, the Finance Director distributes payroll worksheets to each department.  In July, Department Heads submit their payroll worksheets to the Finance Department and the Finance Director opens the on- line budget data entry systems.  Also in July, the Finance Director refers the capital improvement program to the Door County Board of Supervisors for approval and inclusion in the budget process.  Much of August is spent meeting with the Administrator and Door County’s Department Heads to fine tune the departmental budgets. In September, the budget is presented for the first time publicly to the Finance Committee. Throughout September, each of the County Board’s oversight committees reviews departmental budgets.  The Administrator and the Finance Director attend all of the oversight committee meetings to respond to any questions.   Then in October, the Finance Committee recommends a budget to the full County Board.  All of the months of work culminate in a public hearing and adoption of a budget in November before the full Door County Board of Supervisors.

If you wish to participate in the Door County budget process and meet Shirley and her staff, all of Door County’s committee meetings are open to the public.

Left to right:  April Geisel, Accounting Specialist, Sonya Jorns, Accounting Specialist, Shirley Scalish, Finance Director, JoAnn Bauman, Accountant, Mark Janiak, Assistant Finance Director. Steve Wipperfurth, Accountant



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