MENOMONIE — Increasing funding for child support services, adding a third judge and more district attorneys, monitoring groundwater and funding better rural internet access are issues Dunn County leaders want lawmakers to focus on in 2019.
Dunn County supervisors laid out the county’s needs at a Monday night meeting, with state Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset; Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire; and Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer, in attendance.
County supervisors also asked lawmakers to work toward increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rate and changing the levy limit law.
Most of the six issues have caused the county recent financial problems, and several are intertwined with an epidemic of meth and illicit drug use in the county.
Drugs spur rising costs
Dunn County Human Services saw a deficit in 2019 that has caused a spike in the county’s overall budget: The department’s budget increased from $10.8 million in 2018 to $12.8 million in 2019.
Methamphetamine and opioids are driving those mounting costs, said Supervisor Mary Solberg of Menomonie.
That causes a higher price tag for removing children from drug-addicted homes, investigating families, treating parents and placing children in foster care.
Out-of-home children placement costs in Dunn County rose from $750,000 to over $1.2 million in one year, between 2017 and 2018, Solberg said.
The state Department of Children and Families is recommending a $5 million increase for child welfare funding in the 2019-2021 state budget.
But that’s not enough to stem the bleeding, according to the county: It is joining several other Wisconsin counties to request a $30 million increase per year during 2019–2021.
“The consequences of inadequate state funds for child protective services drains county financial resources for every other program and service,” Solberg said Monday.
More children in need are inflating costs in other parts of the courthouse.
The county needs a third circuit court judge and more assistant district attorneys, said Supervisor Sheila Stori of Menomonie.
Dunn County has three prosecutors, including district attorney Andrea Nodolf, who is elected.
The number of cases has increased dramatically. In felony cases alone, 481 were filed in Dunn County in 2018, compared to 288 in 2001, according to online court records. The county has fewer prosecutors in 2019 than it did in 2002, Stori said.
A state report showed Dunn County judges have the second highest caseloads in the state, Stori said.
The county also asked legislators to support raising Wisconsin’s low Medicaid reimbursement rate. To make up for low reimbursement, the county is losing money to keep The Neighbors of Dunn County afloat, said Supervisor Elton Christopherson of Elk Mound.
Wisconsin nursing homes are spending $78 more per resident, per day than the average Medicaid is paying, Christopherson said. At The Neighbors, 65 percent of residents are on Medicaid — a total of 89 residents. If The Neighbors is picking up the extra $78 per day, per resident, the county is paying over $6,900 per day, Christopherson said.
To stem the problem on its own, the county could raise costs for residents who pay privately — which could drive them to switch to Medicaid sooner — or cut services, Christopherson said.
Supervisor James Tripp of Menomonie asked legislators to support changing the levy limit law, which county leaders contend is choking the budget.
Supervisor Tom Quinn of Downing urged legislators to include more funding in new statewide groundwater programs, and supervisor Jim Anderson of Menomonie asked for more dollars to be spent on rural internet access, especially broadband programs.
Schachtner said she supported an increase in Medicaid reimbursement — “I’m eager to see what the new budget looks like” — increasing broadband dollars, looking at groundwater programs, adding a third judge and more prosecutors and bumping up child services funding.
Smith also voiced his support for all six priorities, calling for testing every private well in Wisconsin and an immediate change to the levy limit law. The law currently ties municipalities’ tax levy limit to the amount of new construction. Dunn County’s $21.6 million levy for 2019 has hit the maximum amount, and county leaders are watching for budget trouble in 2020.
“How can we ever say in any truth that we believe in local control if we take that local control away from elected officials, whether it be at the town level, county, city level?” Smith said.
Summerfield expressed cautious support of increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates, saying he’ll use his chairman position on the Committee on Medicaid Reform and Oversight to “figure out how to use the allocated dollars to make sure we get reimbursement rates back up.”
Summerfield also voiced support for adding a third judge and more district attorneys; called for increasing funding, imprisoning drug dealers and educating children to help stem child services costs; and said he’s “back and forth” on changing the levy limit law.
“In 2006, with a Republican Legislature and Democrat governor, people were screaming that property taxes were going up, up and up. So these reforms were put in place,” Summerfield said. “Have we gotten to a point now where maybe we need to look (at the law) in certain situations? I’m open to this.”