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 — Eau Claire County will face more negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic without additional relief money from the federal government.

During the county COVID-19 task force meeting Wednesday, County Administrator Kathryn Schauf said local businesses are worried about the local economic situation if federal funding is not approved shortly by Congress. She said concerns include Paycheck Protection Program money running out and changes to unemployment funding that are effective Jan. 1.

“There’s not a lot of optimism at this point regarding where things will go if the federal government does not move,” Schauf said.

With the pandemic still raging locally and across the country, the effects are far from over and could become worse over the next several months without financial assistance. That includes unemployment, which is far higher this year because of the pandemic. Last year, the county saw 4,531 initial unemployment claims. So far in 2020, it has received 19,547 claims, an increase of 431.4%.

Schauf also said unemployment has the “potential to significantly increase” if no federal funding occurs, since businesses would likely have to lay off more workers.

One positive indicator is that county revenue is slightly up through the first nine months of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. This year the county has made a shade under $73 million in revenue, about $730,000 more than 2019, an increase of about 1%.

Final task force member

County Board Chair Nick Smiar told the COVID-19 task force that Berlye Middleton will likely be appointed as the 20th and final member of the newly formed local communicable disease ordinance task force. Middleton is a former Eau Claire City Council member, former president of Uniting Bridges and a military veteran.

The task force’s first meeting will occur in January. Smiar, a non-voting member of an advisory group to the task force, said the task force will meet at least once, perhaps twice, per month.

The task force is charged with reviewing current communicable disease ordinances and recommending potential changes to the Eau Claire City Council and County Board. Smiar hopes the task force’s duties can be completed by March but said a more realistic timeline is to conclude the work in June.