Numbers add up to a windfall for county

Surplus funds, record sales tax revenue in 2018 provide additional money for deferred capital projects
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Almost all the financial news coming out of Ozaukee County government these days is good.

“By and large, 2018 was a very good year for the county,” county Administrator Jason Dzwinel said. “Nearly every county department did well.”

The county’s net general fund ended 2018 up $990,947 from 2017.

That will pay immediate dividends as  half of the surplus, as required by county policy, will be added to the $800,000 county capital funds balance, increasing it by more than 50% and giving a huge shot in the arm to efforts to catch up on long-overdue one-time capital improvements.

Department heads last week submitted requests for those funds, which will be reviewed and prioritized by county staff and then the County Board will possibly vote in April on projects to be completed.

The other half of the surplus will go into the county general fund, helping keep property taxes low in 2020.

Contributing to that surplus was a better-than-expected increase in sales tax revenue, which ended the year $434,000 higher, than budgeted at a record-high $8.7 million, thanks to a strong economy and the ability to tax online sales. November and December collections were especially healthy at $847,021 and $835,788, respectively, higher than the $690,000 projected amounts.

Ozaukee County’s sales tax rate is 5.6%, with 5% imposed by the state, 0.5% by the county and 0.1% going to the Miller Park Stadium District. The stadium sales tax will be retired later this year or early in 2020, county officials have been told.

In other good economic news, the Lasata Care Center, which has required support from the property tax levy every year since 2014 to  operate, in part due to low Medicaid reimbursements, ended 2018 with a surplus of slightly more than $600,000. The other two components of the Lasata campus ended with combined increases of more than $300,000.

Officials don’t expect Lasata to require levy support from Ozaukee County taxpayers in 2019 and for it to be self-sufficient for years to come.

In addition, the facility is making a $50,000 in-lieu-of taxes contribution to the county general fund.

Interest earnings for the county also did well in 2018 as banks raised interest paid out on savings accounts in reaction to the Federal Reserve increase in rates. Interest earnings for the county were up $189,947 to finish at $397,950, nearly doubling 2017’s total earnings of $197,658.

Cash on hand at the end of December was up more than $1 million over 2017, county Treasurer Joshua Morrison said. 

Business slowed in 2018 for the Register of Deeds office, whose revenues help fund the county Land Information Office and other county departments. It recorded 13,706 documents in 2018, nearly 1,000 fewer than in 2017. That was the lowest total for the office since 2006, Register of Deeds Ron Voigt told county supervisors.

There were only three months in 2018 that recorded more documents than the same months in 2017, he added.

Slow home sales and fewer mortgage refinancings were major reasons, Voigt said.

“In the great recession, people were refinancing a lot,” Voigt said.

The trend continued into 2019. In January, Voigt’s office recorded 767 documents, almost half the 1,413 recorded in January 2018.

But there was still an uptick in revenues through 2018, from $820,617 in 2017 to $832,199 in 2018, thanks to the types of properties that were sold, Voigt said, whose department collects a portion of the real estate transfer fee, which is based on the value of the property being sold.

“We had some substantial, high-end property sales in the county that would account for (the increase in revenue),” he said.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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