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Dunn County presents needs for judicial, child welfare, water quality funding to local legislators

Dunn County presents needs for judicial, child welfare, water quality funding to local legislators

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Dunn County board of supervisors presented their legislative agenda to local state lawmakers at a meeting Monday — and it looks similar to a year ago.

The need for third county judge, increased funding for child welfare services, broadband expansion, nursing home assistance and water quality testing were all presented as needs for Dunn County.

Supervisors also pushed legislators for a change to the levy tax limit.

Rep. Warren Petryk, R-town of Washington, Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer and Rep. Rob Stafsholt, R-New Richmond, were in attendance.

Based upon a caseload report for 2015-17, Dunn County had the second highest workload per judicial office in the state, Supervisor Sheila Stori said. Assembly Bill 470 allows the creation of up to 12 circuit court judges allocated by the director of state courts. Stori said the county meets the requirements and asked for support in getting the bill passed by the governor and having an additional judge provided to the county.

The county has already passed a resolution to create another additional branch and the courthouse was built with the ability to support three judges.

“Our courts have been operating over capacity for several years and it’s the county’s residents who bear the costs of overbearing court services,” Stori said.

Dunn County relies significantly on revenue from the property tax levy.

Created in 2006, the levy limit prevented a levy increase of no more than the increase in equalized value due to net new construction. New construction for the levy limit is calculated by dividing the current year’s value of net new construction by the prior year’s equalized value of the county, Supervisor James Tripp said.

There is a fundamental flaw in the levy limit law, Tripp said. It’s assumed new construction would match or exceed inflation rates and that hasn’t been the case.

“Whatever the intention of the law, the effect over time has been to strangle the ability of local government to meet the mandates to provide services and programs that are demanded and deserved by our citizens,” Tripp said.

Tripp asked legislators to consider a yearly regional consumer price index approach to determine the value in which a levy tax may be increased.

“This proposal is not a request to build up local fund balance,” he said. “We’re not trying to get ahead of costs, it’s a request for a life preserver. We need the county to be able to keep its head above water.”

Supervisor Brian Johnson thanked legislators for an increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate in the last budget, but there is still work to do, he said.

A steadily rising number of residents of Dunn County nursing facilities are on Medicaid. Nursing homes are being forced to either reduce services or increase costs for private payers. That depletes their funds faster and thereby increases the number of individuals on Medicaid, he said.

“Nursing facilities exist to take care of the people and not just anyone,” Johnson said. “They take care of some of our most vulnerable people. Nursing home residents are disabled, or elderly adults who cannot survive without 24-hour care. The residents of the nursing homes are our parents, our siblings, our friends and our neighbors.”

Dunn County became a Telecommuter Forward Certified county last year in which it supports availability of telecommuting options.

The county hopes to be Broadband Forward Certified in the coming months. To be broadband forward, municipalities are taking steps to reduce obstacles to broadband infrastructure investment.

Supervisor Jim Anderson asked that legislators support broadband data collection and mapping, grant programs that reward applicants that have taken steps to reduce obstacles to expansion and support investments of increased broadband expansion.

Supervisor Thomas Quinn asked for long-term drinking water protection along with increased funds for land conservation programs and staffing.

When allowed a response to the issues presented by the county supervisors, Summerfield said there is a nursing home problem. He said the recent increase in funds is a step in the right direction.

Summerfield said he also understands concerns of the levy limit law and he is open to tweaking it, but many are concerned about property tax increases.

“One of the biggest constituent outreaches has been property taxes,” he said. “Anytime you start talking about messing with the levy limit or changing it, there are people that are very worried about their property taxes going up.”

Stafsholt, who arrived after the presentation by county supervisors because of other representative activities, said meth is a catastrophic issue.

He is part of an adoption task force and said there is a significant number of cases involving kids in the foster care system due to drug use by parents.

He said he supports continued funding increases for broadband and is looking to make sure UW-Stout is one of the six system universities that is given funding for more water quality studies after legislation was recently approved.

Petryk supports increased funding for Medicaid reimbursements, the addition of a judge and broadband expansion. Drug use is a nationwide problem and an issue that affects the welfare of children, he said.

“We have to nibble away at the problem. Every positive step that we take forward on this nationwide crisis is a real win,” Petryk said.

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