Counties Struggle With Opioid Costs
Ashland County asks voters for property tax hike to handle costs; referendum defeated.
They asked voters to approve a referendum that would have raised property taxes on a home or business valued at $100,000 by $83 per year for five years.
Ashland County voters said no, by almost a two-to-one margin.
The vote is significant, because Ashland County was the first in Wisconsin to ask residents to raise their property taxes to deal with the epidemic of drug abuse.
Statistics suggest some reasons why the Ashland County referendum failed: The median household income in Ashland County is $40,297 – 31 percent lower than the statewide average. Incomes of about 15 percent of its residents are below the poverty guideline. The average age of its residents is 41; the statewide average is 37.
Ashland County Administrator Jeff Beirl said the push to pass the referendum was a “major uphill battle,” since it came after the Ashland School District passed a $34-million construction referendum that raised property taxes on more than half of all county residents.
“Voters rejected the referendum because they feel the property taxes they pay now are a burden,” Beirl added. “When a lot of people are on a fixed income – the elderly – or working for $10 to $16 an hour, paying their annual property tax bill is a burden on their budget and they felt an increase now was unacceptable.”
To make their case, Ashland County officials listed these specific additional drug addiction and abuse costs faced by county government:
*State law requires that methamphetamine cases be prosecuted as felonies. The Ashland District Attorney’s Office prosecuted 303 felony cases in 2017, and one in five of them were meth cases. In 2011, only nine of the 122 felony cases prosecuted involved meth.
Announcing new help for local law officers who must clean up toxic meth labs this month, Attorney General Brad Schimel said, “Meth use and production is threatening our state, and draining law enforcement’s resources.”
An FBI report estimated that, between 2011 and 2015, methamphetamine use in Wisconsin likely expanded by 250 to 300 percent, Schimel added.
*Ashland County’s Health and Human Services Department scrambled to find care for 379 children in 2017, at a cost of $720,909. In 2014, the agency cared for 282 children at a cost of $323,728.
*The Ashland County jail is licensed to care for 67 inmates, but 1,183 inmates were booked into it last year. That crush raised inmates’ health care, transport and other costs. In 2016 alone, the budget for the Sheriff’s Department and jail was overspent by $331,845.
Spending controls imposed by past governors and legislators mean that trying to pass a referendum “is the only option” local governments have to increase their property tax levy, Beirl said.
County officials across Wisconsin are reeling from soaring drug-abuse costs, but that isn’t “a romantic issue like the [high school] football team,” O’Connell said.
County officials will be asking residents to raise their property taxes for services most of them won’t use and “hope” they or a family member never have to use, O’Connell noted. Counties deal with “quality of life” issues, he added.
Even if the Legislature eased levy limits to allow counties to raise more cash to respond to drug-abuse issues, a larger issue is looming, O’Connell said: “The property tax is not sustainable as a long-term source of revenue for local governments.”
Since the referendum failed, Ashland County has no choice but consider some painful fiscal choices, Beirl said.
“All county revenues and expenses will be reviewed. Where we can, fees for services will be increased and expenses will be cut,” Beirl added. “Right now, it is too early in the budget process to identify specific cuts to specific services.”
More about the Opioid Crisis
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- AG Kaul Announces Wisconsin, Four Other States, File Lawsuits Against Purdue Pharma - Josh Kaul - May 16th, 2019
- Medicaid Expansion Would Help Opioid Addicts - Laurel White - May 9th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Reintroduce Legislation to Combat the Opioid and Substance Use Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - May 8th, 2019
- Kaul, AGs Warn of More Opioid Problems - Shamane Mills - Apr 2nd, 2019
- Bipartisan Coalition of AGs Express Concern Regarding HHS Pain Management Draft Report - Josh Kaul - Apr 1st, 2019
- Opioid Crisis Affecting State Businesses - Shamane Mills - Apr 1st, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Bipartisan Work Recognized by National Organization - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 28th, 2019
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces New Federal Funding To Help Wisconsin Combat the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 27th, 2019
- Three Hospitals Offer 40 Recovery Coaches - Mary Kate McCoy - Mar 22nd, 2019
- State Officials Meet to Tackle Drug Epidemic - Shamane Mills - Mar 18th, 2019
- The Enduring Allure of Opioids - Hayley Sperling - Feb 24th, 2019
- Hagedorn Campaign Releases First TV Ad: “Lily” - Brian Hagedorn - Feb 19th, 2019
- Opioid Prescriptions in State Down 29% - Shamane Mills - Feb 11th, 2019
- Have County Overdose Deaths Peaked? - Ximena Conde - Dec 31st, 2018
- Drug Task Force Seeks Community Input - Max Nawara - Dec 20th, 2018
- Ald. Tony Zielinski to Sponsor Legislation to Ensure Proper Coverage for City Employees Struggling with Addiction and Other Mental Health Problems - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Dec 17th, 2018
- Opioid Task Force Issues Recommendations - Ximena Conde - Dec 4th, 2018
- Final report released by Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force - Ald. Michael Murphy - Nov 30th, 2018
- 4th Dimension Recovery Center Opens to Address Opioid Epidemic in Wisconsin - 4th Dimension Recovery Center - Nov 12th, 2018
- Governor Walker Announces 32% Decrease in Opioid Prescriptions Since January 2015 - Gov. Scott Walker - Oct 31st, 2018
- #HopeActLiveWI: Wisconsin Awarded Nearly $3 Million to Combat Opioid Epidemic - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Oct 10th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces More Than $20 Million Awarded to Wisconsin Communities to Fight the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 21st, 2018
- Senator Baldwin’s Reforms Pass Senate with Overwhelming Bipartisan Support - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 18th, 2018
- Another Attorney General Not Named Brad Schimel Sues Opioid Manufacturer - One Wisconsin Now - Sep 15th, 2018
- Bipartisan Senate Opioids Response Legislation Includes Senator Baldwin’s Reforms - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Sep 12th, 2018
- The State of Politics: Counties Struggle With Opioid Costs - Steven Walters - Aug 20th, 2018
- Vipond Campaign: ‘Opioids: Clear & Present Danger’ in Race to Replace Sensenbrenner - Dr. Jennifer Hoppe Vipond - Aug 1st, 2018
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- Meth A Bigger Issue Than Opioids? - Shamane Mills - Jul 6th, 2018
- Sensenbrenner-Backed Legislation to Fight Synthetic Opioids Clears House - U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner - Jun 15th, 2018
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- Brad Schimel and Scott Walker Repeat Mistakes Past; Refuse to Take Legal Action Against Opioid Manufacturers - One Wisconsin Now - Jun 4th, 2018
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- Campaign Cash: State Politicians Funded by Accused Drug Makers - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - May 26th, 2018
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- Brad Schimel Election Ad Blames Families, Not His Pharmaceutical Donors for Opioid Crisis - One Wisconsin Now - May 17th, 2018
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- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Colleagues to Call on Administration to Take Immediate Action to Reduce Price of Life-Saving Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 20th, 2018
- Opioid Crisis: The House Where Addicts Die - Isiah Holmes - Apr 18th, 2018
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- Combating the Opioid Crisis: Governor Walker Signs Bipartisan Bills on Opioids into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Apr 9th, 2018
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- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces New Funding for Wisconsin to Combat the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 22nd, 2018
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- Supervisor Peggy West: Time to Hold Drug Makers Accountable - Sup. Peggy A. West - Mar 14th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin to Health Insurers: Step Up Response to Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 5th, 2018
- Latest Report Highlights 20 Percent Decrease in Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed from 2015 to 2017 - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 2nd, 2018
- Tracking Opioid Deaths by ZIP Code - Isiah Holmes - Mar 1st, 2018
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- Vukmir, Nygren Lead Efforts to Combat the Opioid Epidemic - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Jan 19th, 2018
- Governor Walker Takes Additional Action to Fight Opioid Crisis - Gov. Scott Walker - Jan 19th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls on President Trump To Renew The Opioid Public Health Emergency - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jan 12th, 2018
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- Murphy’s Law: Brad Schimel’s Opioid Problem - Bruce Murphy - Nov 14th, 2017
- Op Ed: State Leaves Counties to Sue Drug Companies - State Senators Janet Bewley and Dave Hansen - Nov 11th, 2017
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