Beginning Friday, county operations could be closed one day each month for the remainder of 2020.
The Eau Claire County Board was scheduled to consider a resolution implementing the action during its meeting Tuesday night to lower spending amid financial challenges caused by COVID-19. However, a vote will have to wait until Thursday night, as the County Board voted around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to reconvene Thursday at 7 p.m. Tuesday’s meeting included a delay during a tornado warning from about 8:30 to 8:45 p.m. and technical issues lasting about 20 minutes until 9:55 p.m.
If the resolution is approved, employees would not work nor receive pay during those closure days. Law enforcement, airport, Meals on Wheels and 24-hour operations workers are exempt from the furloughs. If necessary, the resolution allows county highway staff to work on furlough days if emergency activities like snow removal are required. The first furlough day is scheduled for Friday, July 24. The county would also be closed Aug. 21, Sep. 18, Oct. 16, Nov. 13 and Dec. 18, all of which are Fridays.
County Finance Director Norb Kirk provided projections regarding next year’s budget to the board. Based on initial department submissions, 2021 tax levy requests are about $38.91 million. Kirk estimates that the county will receive about $37.31 million in tax levy in 2021, resulting in an initial shortfall of about $1.6 million. That deficit includes the assumption made by Kirk that sales tax revenue will be about $750,000 less in 2021 than 2020.
Going forward, Kirk said financial risks include the unknown impact of coronavirus on sales tax collection; a potential decrease in state funding for various county programs; and courts activity decreasing in 2021.
The County Board approved a resolution Tuesday declaring racism a public health crisis. If that resolution is approved, Eau Claire County would be added to the Wisconsin Public Health Association 2018 declaration that stated racism is a public health crisis. The Eau Claire City-County Health Department is part of that WPHA declaration as well, and the Health Department reviewed and supported the County Board resolution.
The resolution outlines the ways in which racism manifests, including housing, education, employment and criminal justice. It also proposes six action steps the County Board should take going forward to ensure that racial equity is a key factor in all county decisions, including a review of internal policies and procedures; increasing diversity and instituting antiracist policies; and working with local entities to make racial progress.
Members of Clear Vision Eau Claire, a citizen group focused on community planning, expressed support for the resolution during the public comment portion of the board meeting.
The next County Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday.