County to maintain officer protective status

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ROCK COUNTY - The Rock County Board of Supervisors will maintain the protective class status of county corrections officers at the Rock County Jail.

During its meeting Thursday, the board also reviewed a preliminary 2019 county budget.

The board voted 25-1 to keep the jail workers under the protective status that allows for collective bargaining rights and bolstered benefits. District 18 board member Bob Yeomans voted against the resolution.

Over two dozen corrections officers and multiple command staff members including Sheriff Robert Spoden attended Thursday's meeting.

"No matter what your views are, at the end of the day, these individuals are good, solid officers and they deserve to have the right thing done for them, and have the same rights they have had for the last 40 years," Spoden told board members.

The protected class is granted to public safety staff who work in dangerous conditions. Counties across the state have removed the status for these types of employees following the approval of Act 10 reforms that reined in collective bargaining rights of state workers.

Wisconsin Professional Police Association Executive Director James Palmer spoke in support of the corrections officers, and noted negative impacts in Wisconsin counties that removed protective status for corrections officers.

"Correctional officers are critically important members of the law enforcement community in this county," Palmer said.

Thursday's vote follow two board committee meetings regarding the protective class that saw overwhelming support from both the staff and public safety committees.

Rock County Administrator Josh Smith presented the board a copy of the administrative budget for 2019.

The $188.54 million proposed 2019 budget represents a potential 8.4 percent spending increase compared to the $173.94 million approved this year.

While the county's tax levy is set to increase 1.1 percent, and represent a new revenue spike of $720,584 to $67.63 million in 2019, the county's overall tax rate could decrease by 4.9 percent to represent a tax rate of $6.20 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Since 2014, the county's overall tax rate has decreased, according to Smith's presentation. But an overall lower tax rate does not mean lower taxes, due in part to increases to the county's overall equalized property value, a figure that has jumped the last three years and 6.3 percent in 2018, allowing for a tax increase on the county portion of the property tax.

The county's portion of the property tax may increase, meaning property owners could see an increase of $4.96 per $100,000 in assessed property value on their respective property tax bills.

The county could see $17.37 million in capital expenditures next year, with the Rock County Courthouse security plan taking $5.81 million of overall projects, with public highway improvements ($3.45 million) accounting for the next largest capital expense.

Courthouse security work is expected to start late this year or early next year, Smith said, with projects being sent out to bid. The board could take action on the contracts at its Oct. 25 meeting, he added.

No funding was included in the recommended budget for plans outlined in a master facilities plan presented last month to board members that included over $100 million in future improvements.

In terms of public safety dollars, the county is expected to increase the Rock County Sheriff's Office budget for overtime staff expenses nearly $1 million, representing a $968,231 overtime pay increase included in the sheriff's overall budget of $24.94 million for next year. Smith said the new overtime funding looked to solve underfunding issues in terms of staffing. Smith also recommended the county spend $481,000 to further develop the county's Evidence-based Decision Making criminal justice reforms. The program looks to implement pre-trial risk assessments of those arrested; establish a pre-trial supervision program and create a diversion program for low-risk offenders.

The Rock County District Attorney's Office could add four full-time support staff, an increase of $268,000 and an increase of $116,906 for Rock County Circuit Court operation cost increases including boosted attorney contracts, veterans drug testing and indigent counsel fee increases.

Overall, county staff levels are expected to increase by eight full-time positions to 1,227 county employees compared to this year's budget.

In early 2019, Smith said the county would need to tackle the creation of the county's airport adhoc committee and highway priorities for the Interstate 39/90 expansion, plus continued county rehab projects. Smith will meet with board members on Nov. 5 to discuss the budget and review prior discussion and comments on the fiscal plan; followed by a public hearing on Nov. 7 at 6 p.m., with an expected vote on the budget set for Nov. 13 at 9 a.m., according to Smith's presentation. Budget review with the committees will meet for budget review from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1.

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