County Budget Increase Irks Some Board Members

When the Door County Board of Supervisors approved the 2008 budget Nov. 5, supervisor Hugh Mulliken, who represents the Towns of Gibraltar, Baileys Harbor and Liberty Grove on the board, said he was “astounded.”

“I never thought it would pass the first time around,” he said.

That’s because the budget called for more than a 12 percent increase over 2007, to $61 million. The budget passed narrowly, 11 votes for to 10 against. Mulliken was among the latter group and is not happy the board refused to make significant cuts to reel in spending. Marc Savard represents the Town of Liberty Grove and Village of Sister Bay and is similarly incensed with the budget.

“It’s unacceptable,” Savard said. “This is the first in six budgets I couldn’t accept. Completely out of the realm of acceptability.”

But County Administrator Michael Serpe saw it differently.

“I understand that people might be a little shocked at the increase,” he said. “But for the previous four or five years the increase was probably a little lower than it should have been and sooner or later you have to pay the piper.”

The county spending increase is capped by the state at 3.86 percent this year, though that figure is misleading because emergency services, debt service, and bridge and road spending is excluded from the cap.

Both Savard and Mulliken said the board should have taken a top-down approach to building the budget.

“There’s very little way to build from the bottom up that works because no department wants to cut,” Savard said.

“The cuts,” Mulliken said, “have to come from the top down.”

They were in favor of a directive that would spread a cut in the spending increase equally across all departments. Savard was careful to point out he wasn’t seeking a decrease in spending from 2007 levels.

“I think a four percent increase would have been reasonable,” he explained. He proposed such a plan in which his goal was “only to reduce the increase,” but said it was voted down overwhelmingly.

Serpe said the county runs on a “very lean budget.”

“There’s not a lot of fat in this budget,” he said. “To get to four percent you would have had to cut a couple million dollars and there isn’t a couple million to cut unless you don’t want to pave your roads or provide the services this county has come to expect.”

He said no citizens called his office about the budget and nobody spoke against the budget at the public hearing before the vote.

Mulliken conceded that making cuts in a small community isn’t easy. Each supervisor is assigned to committees overseeing various county departments “where you know everyone who works in these programs.”

“The only way to cut costs is usually to let people go,” he said. “Cuts are painful but have to be made.”

Savard attributes some of the continued growth in spending to a mindset ingrained in those in government.

“Government in general is there to facilitate more government,” he said. “Most people run for government because they think it’s a good thing and generally they want more of it.”

He also attributed some of the increase to the new contract with the county’s union employees.

“We locked ourselves into a seven-year union contract with a 90/10 health care plan,” he said, adding that the contract also includes three percent annual raises. “If we had not given raises and had given a health care plan more in line with the private sector we could have done something better with the budget.”

Mulliken said he’s not a hard-liner on the budget and recognizes the need to increase spending a little more some years rather than putting spending off until it reaches a crisis point.

“If too confined, the budget will explode when constraints are lifted,” he said, but this year deserved more constraint.

Serpe said the increase is only a one-time bump.

“Next year you’re at two percent,” he said. “I consider myself a fiscal conservative and the board to be as well. When you look at what the county budget buys you see the value. You can close parks, reduce hours at the library, or reduce law enforcement, but you do all that and you diminish the quality of life in Door County.”

How Door County supervisors voted on 2008 county budget:


Kari Anderson

Dan Austad

Charles Brann

Ken Fisher

Jaime Forest

Will Jeanquart

Mark Moeller

Charlie Most, Jr.

Merrell Runquist

Bob Ryan

Dale Wiegand


Paul DeWitt

Cletus Fontaine

Bill Goettelman

Charles Gulley

Richard Haines

Leroy Liebe

Hugh Mulliken

Marc Savard

Richard Virlee

Leo Zipperer