County officials touted a slimmed-down budget with lower property taxes and increased emphasis on mental health, housing, criminal justice and flood relief.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi signed the 2019 county budget on Wednesday, Nov. 14, after the County Board made a few additions to his proposed budget Nov. 12.

In a county news release, Parisi said with the budget, county officials have “taken steps to improve our quality of life, increase opportunity for all, and invest in our infrastructure, all while reducing property taxes.”

“Dane County continues to lead by example with our shared values,” he said

The $630.1 million budget represents the smallest increase (0.8 percent) in the operating portion of the levy since 1991, and is estimated to reduce the average county homeowner around $8.10.

On Monday, the County Board added to Parisi’s budget proposal funding for “front-end” justice initiatives, affordable housing and lake health, said board chair Sharon Corrigan, who said community input was an important part of the process.

“Individuals were able to testify at 3 public hearings of the full County Board as well as 17 committee meetings dedicated to review of the 2019 budget,” she said in the news release. “Supervisors also heard from their constituents throughout the process via phone calls, email and social media.”

Personnel and Finance Committee chair Patrick Miles said while people in Dane County are “fortunate” to live in a county with strong growth in its tax base, more residents should benefit.

“We recognize that economic prosperity is not equally shared and focused the budget on helping youth, immigrants, and the homeless,” he added.

Focus on flooding

The budget responds to this summer’s flooding with several million dollars’ worth of fixes.

It includes an unprecedented $3 million to improve water flow in the Yahara River and other “pinch points,” enabling water to move more quickly out of county lakes during and after high rainfall. There is also a $1 million matching grant for park/trail repair, including a $500,000 stream bank restoration fund to help habitat recovery, reduce future erosion and promote a healthy wildlife habitat

The county has also started a $750,000 program to pay farmers and property owners to convert portions of their lands to permanent cover to keep water where it lands, and has set aside $9 million to permanently secure properties to improve the county’s ability to reduce stormwater runoff and improve water quality in key areas.

District 35 supervisor and land conservation committee chair Carl Chenoweth, who represents Stoughton, said the measures approved by the county will have an impact on the amount of water flowing through the city, across the Fourth Street Dam and onto the Dunkirk Lake Dam.

“As we have seen over the past several weeks, the Lower Yahara River control point at the Fourth Street Dam and the Dunkirk Lake Dam are playing a considerable role on the water level management of the Yahara chain of lakes upstream of the City of Stoughton,” he wrote the Hub in an email. “Moving forward with this initiative could greatly impact the size and shape of our riverfront development plans in the City of Stoughton and will require a close, coordinated effort with state, county and city officials.”

Chenoweth said the County Board is also supporting local water quality through funding recommendations brought forth by the Healthy Farms/Healthy Lakes task force. He said 2019 will see a combination of state, county, environmental and agricultural groups working together “for a common goal of reducing phosphorus in the Yahara River watershed.”

“This is the beginning of a long-term commitment of the Dane County Board, along with the Land and Water Conservation Department, to address these issues with measurable goals,” he said.

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.