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 — During its meeting Monday, the Eau Claire County Finance and Budget Committee received several promising figures regarding the county’s financial health.

The county had about $12.82 million in its general fund at the end of 2020. That is $1.77 million higher than the 2020 target general fund balance of $11.05 million. That target figure equates to 30% of the 2021 general fund expenditures of $36.82 million.

That encouraging general fund figure contributed to the county receiving a rating of Aa1 from Moody’s Investors Service on its $43.3 million in general obligation bonds and notes for 2021.

Aa1 is the same rating as last year and the second-highest possible rating from Moody’s. In addition to the general fund increase, the rating is based on the county’s “broad tax base and diverse economy that benefits from a large state university and regional economic center,” according to a Moody’s news release.

County Finance Director Norb Kirk, who has held his role since mid-2018, said the conversation with the firm last week was “probably the most positive call with Moody’s that I’ve had since I’ve been with the county.”

Of that $43.3 million total, $24.4 million will fund a new county Highway Department facility, $11.5 million will refund bonds and $7.4 million will finance county capital projects.

Overall, County Administrator Kathryn Schauf said, the county’s economy is “very strong right now.”

Despite ongoing challenges faced by local businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly leisure and hospitality, Schauf said positive economic indicators exist, including manufacturing industries recovering well.

The committee also received information on the county’s 2020 cash balance. As of last December 2020, it had $30.25 million in adjusted cash on hand. That figure is far higher than 2019, when the county had $20.16 million, but similar to 2018, when the number was $29.35 million.

County Treasurer Glenda Lyons and Kirk said some of the explanation for the increase involves less spending in 2020 by the county, which occurred partly in response to the impacts of the pandemic.

The next regular Finance and Budget Committee meeting is scheduled for April 5.