County budget battle coming (and it has to do with more than controversial books)
Here's a breakdown of the budget amendments that will voted on this week
A three hour meeting of the Marathon County Board Thursday shed a lot of light on the rumors about library defunding.
First off, they weren’t unfounded. Several speakers and some county board members suggested some degree of cuts to the library’s budget, essentially as a means of putting pressure on the Library Board and the committees they’ve formed over controversial books.
At the center of the controversy is Gender Queer, one of apparently several books that have been flagged for review by patrons. Gender Queer, as The Wausonian recently reported, underwent that review and received committee and library director recommendations to keep the book but move the book to the adult section of the library.
But the upcoming budget fight will be about more than controversial books. Supervisors made clear that the county is spending far too much in this budget. The levy increase, 9%, is one of the highest in recent history, and right-leaning supervisors are saying that doesn’t reflect the new board’s right-leaning makeup after the spring election. (The Wausonian documented the ideological shift on various municipal governing bodies.)
And before any finger-wavers chime in with “but local elections aren’t partisan,” let me stop you right there. Those days are over. While technically they’re non-partisan, in the piece linked above there is strong evidence by way of candidate signaling and partisan candidate wishlists that these races are now de facto partisan races. So much so that I debated flat out asking candidates about their political affiliations. But, I realized, no need: candidates did plenty to signal that themselves.
Chris Dickinson pointed out something I think was entirely correct: While budgets are created by staff and presented in early fall to various committees, the board itself really isn’t able to have a hearing and get public feedback until November; has to come up with any amendments by 1 pm the following day; and then needs to decided on everything the following week. All that for a $218 million budget. (26% of that is the levy - in other words, your tax dollars.)
That’s a challenge. Supervisors at Thursday’s meeting suggested lowering that budget increase from 9% to more like 6%. And that’s a challenge, says County Board Chair Kurt Gibbs, who explained that there isn’t a 1:1 ratio when it comes to budget cuts. Cutting a dollar out of the Highway Department or Infrastructure budgets might mean a $0.33 reduction on the tax levy, the rest lost out of state or federal support.
The other side of that equation is reduction of future costs, which are notoriously harder to quantify. Spend a $1 on a crime prevention program and save $10 years later in reduced jail costs, officer time, etc. But that’s spending now to reduce future budgets; and as mentioned, it’s hard to quantify and doesn’t help much with the current budget.
As we’ll see in our detailed breakdown of the cuts that are coming below, it’s why municipal budgeting is hard.
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