FOREST CITY | The amount of taxes Winnebago County will levy during the fiscal year beginning July 1 could be close to $1 million more than this year.
After several days of meeting with department heads to discuss their budgets, the county supervisors on Thursday talked about what they could do to lower the levies.
"Honestly, this (the tax increase) makes me ill," said County Auditor Karla Weiss.
She said there has to be more cuts that can be made somewhere.
Supervisor Bill Jensvold said the board increased taxation by $300,000 last year, "and we got plenty of flak for that."
He suggested a 5-percent cut in spending across the board.
Supervisor Mike Stensrud said going back to the department heads and asking them to cut 5 percent from their budgets would be the most fair and equitable way to do it, noting this would prevent the supervisors from being accused of favoritism.
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In the end the supervisors decided against the 5-percent cut.
Supervisor Terry Durby said the board made cuts last year and ended up getting criticized.
Jensvold said none of the constituents he has spoken to said they wanted fewer services.
However, the board is still trying to trim the budget wherever possible without affecting services.
Durby said the biggest increase is in the general basic levy. He noted the rural services levies actually dropped, but valuation has increased.
Weiss said the rural supplemental levy can be lowered slightly.
She also said the budget still could change, noting the compensation board, which recommends salaries for elected officials, hasn't met yet.
The supervisors discussed offering early retirement to older employees. New employees hired to replace them would not cost as much, according to Jensvold.
Stensrud noted health insurance hasn't been factored into the budget yet. He suggested increasing the share the employees pay for it.
"That's where we are going to have to have a frank discussion," he said.
Jensvold told the Summit Friday that the "lion's share of the (budget) problem is the courthouse itself."
For the past four years the county has been doing tuck pointing and brick repair work on the 110-year-old building.
Jensvold said the work required to fix the exterior of the aging building is more extensive -- and expensive -- than anticipated.
He said repairs to the courthouse need to be done because without them "you either let it fall down or build a new one, which isn't cheap."
Another cause for the county's budget woes is a $600,000 increase in the sheriff's budget due to the opening of the new public safety center, according to Jensvold.
Part of the increase is due to the jail itself, while the rest is for salaries for new jail employees, he said.
Before voters passed a bond issue in May 2015 to build the public safety center, everyone thought just one or two new jailers would be needed, according to Jensvold.
However, that number turned out to be six to 12, he said.
Jensvold said he hates raising taxes, but the only way to prevent it is to lay off employees, which would mean longer lines at the treasurer's and assessor's offices and deterioration of secondary roads.
Budget discussion was expected to resume during the supervisors' regular meeting on Jan. 16.