Frustration rose Monday evening during the Eau Claire County Finance and Budget Committee meeting regarding the challenges and uncertainties regarding the county’s 2020 budget.
Supervisor Gerald Wilkie said it will be the most challenging budget year during his more than three decades on the County Board.
“I have some real concerns about our financial situation,” Wilkie said. “The trajectory we’re on is not good.”
Much of the dissatisfaction was directed toward the lack of financial information from the Eau Claire County Department of Human Services, which is responsible for programs assisting vulnerable and low-income residents.
After losses of about $1.26 million in 2018, DHS is projected to take a seven-figure loss again this year, but uncertainty exists about what the number will be. A projected number from DHS anticipates a loss of around $2 million, but supervisors fear it could be significantly higher.
Through April of this year, DHS has losses of about $1.45 million but plans to significantly decrease its costs using mitigation plans. However, the Finance and Budget Committee did not receive any specifics regarding those plans, nor were any DHS officials at the meeting.
The supervisors expressed irritation Monday at the lack of tangible finances to review from DHS.
“It’s like we got this $2 million-plus elephant in the room, and nobody really wants to grab it by the horns and drag it to the ground,” Supervisor Steve Chilson said. “I think it’s kind of a waste of time ... We’re not accomplishing anything.”
Chilson called the $2 million projection from DHS ludicrous, saying he believes the losses might total $4 million or more.
“I don’t want to sound negative, but I don’t think that everybody grasps the financial situation,” Chilson said. “...We’re in the danger zone. We’re close to having significant issues.”
Wilkie, who called the circumstance regarding DHS a financial crisis, said he thinks there could be $3 million in losses this year. In terms of mitigation plans for DHS, Wilkie suggested potentially cutting staff members, giving employees higher caseloads and having supervisors help with caseloads.
“We might not be able to do best practice; we’re just going to have to do pretty good practice,” Wilkie said.
To gain a better sense of the department’s monetary standing, the committee plans to make an official request for detailed financial statements and cost mitigation plans from DHS at every finance and budget meeting going forward.
“The easiest way to make it go away (is to) be transparent and put your numbers out there,” Chilson said. “If you’re not going to do that, you’re going to face a hard line of questioning.”
“You’re going to face a hard line of questioning regardless,” committee Chair Stella Pagonis responded.
In other business, the committee approved a change of venue to Altoona for the Veterans Foundation memorial. It also approved sending out an online survey to hear input from residents regarding the upcoming budget plans.
The Eau Claire County Board is scheduled to meet for its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, Aug. 20.