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 — Initial projections show six-figures losses in 2020 for the Eau Claire County Department of Human Services.

The department estimates it will have overages of about $375,000 in 2020. DHS had savings of about $796,000 in expenditures but a shortage of about $1.17 million in revenue. Most of the savings come from lower spending on wages and benefits for DHS employees, mainly through mandatory and voluntary furloughs.

The DHS Board approved the December 2020 financial reports during its meeting Monday, which also provided a look at the department’s annual numbers.

Vickie Gardner, DHS fiscal manager, stressed that $375,000 was a preliminary estimate that will take a few months to be finalized.

“It’s based on what we know today,” Gardner said. “I can’t even tell you if this is where we’re going to land or not.”

That number is higher than the anticipated 2020 losses a month prior, which were expected to be around $124,000. A significant factor to the overage increase is an estimated loss of $167,000 in Wisconsin Medicaid Cost Reporting, which is money reimbursed to counties by the state.

DHS will not receive its full budgeted amount of WIMCR revenue from the state, which Gardner and DHS Director Diane Cable said is an unfortunate reality that is outside of the department’s control.

“You never know how much you’re going to get (from the state),” Cable said.

The expected six-figure loss is significantly lower than the past few years, though. DHS had overages exceeding $1 million in 2017, 2018 and ‘19.

Juvenile Detention Center update

The DHS Board received information about admissions at the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center. In January 2021, the detention center admitted 22 people (18 male, four female) who stayed at the center for a total of 456 days. Last January, it housed 31 people (25 male, six female) for 386 days.

If the January admission rate continues for the remainder of the year, the Juvenile Detention Center would admit 264 people in 2021. In 2020, it admitted 290 people.

The next regular DHS Board meeting is scheduled for March 22.