Eau Claire County Courthouse

What started seven months ago as an inquiry into DHS financial practices has progressed into a criminal investigation that includes a forensic audit.

EAU CLAIRE — Sales tax revenue in Eau Claire County continues to do better than expected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county collected $946,310 in sales taxes last November, bringing its 2020 total revenue to $10.03 million. The county budgeted $10.85 million for 2020 sales tax revenue, meaning it needs to collect about $824,000 in December to meet its budget. Monthly sales tax numbers are made available from the state about two months after a given month ends, so the county should have its final 2020 figures around late February.

The Eau Claire County Finance and Budget Committee reviewed this information during its meeting Monday. At the meeting, County Finance Director Norb Kirk said that the $824,000 needed in December “is certainly doable,” and he expects the county will end up right on its yearly sales tax budget or potentially have a small surplus.

Either option is significantly better than Kirk projected at the start of the pandemic, when it was feared the county could potentially have a sales tax revenue shortage of more than $1 million. Sales tax revenue helps fund many of the county’s core operations.

Sales tax revenue coming in better than expected aligns with County Administrator Kathryn Schauf expressing cautious optimism regarding the county’s overall finances last Friday during the annual State of Eau Claire County session.

The 2020 November number was lower than the previous two years but still a relatively high total during a pandemic. The county had $1.07 million in sales tax revenue in November 2019 and $950,828 in November 2018.

Through November, Eau Claire County collected about $115,000 less in sales tax revenue in 2020 compared to 2019. From March to November of 2020, the months impacted by the pandemic, there was a decrease of about $462,000 compared to 2019. The first two months of 2020 had revenues far above projections, though, which is why the county could ultimately break even or have a slight savings for the year.

The next Finance and Budget Committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15.