Eau Claire County Courthouse

The 2020 finances for the Eau Claire County Department of Human Services are better than 2019 so far, but 2021 could present challenges due to COVID-19.

The DHS Board received financial information for the first five months of 2020 during its meeting Monday evening, along with potential difficulties developing next year’s budget.

All DHS programs, excluding Comprehensive Community Services, have budgeted losses of about $339,000 through May 2020. At the same time in 2019, that number was about $1.83 million in overages.

DHS Director Diane Cable attributed the smaller losses to existing mitigation strategies, including reducing the number of placements and diverting hospitalizations.

“What we’re doing is working,” Sandra McKinney, a supervisor and DHS board member, said.

“It’s showing that trend shifting, yes,” Cable said.

CCS has a surplus of around $329,000 during the year’s first five months. The department is also projected to spend about 95% of its budgeted amount in 2020, which equals about $32.23 million and is about $1.76 million below budget.

The department’s initial 2021 request for tax levy funding is about $10.28 million. That would be a 15.4% increase from its 2020 tax levy, which is estimated to be $8.91 million. Stemming from a recent county COVID-19 task force meeting, county departments were asked to decrease budgets by 5% to deal with financial pressures caused by coronavirus. That $10.28 million initial request is about $1.87 million above what a 5% decrease would be.

If DHS must decrease its budget from 2020 to 2021, Cable said, that would likely include personnel adjustments, reducing placements and searching for new revenue in some programs. Those potential adjustments, and the resulting risk levels if they are implemented, will be included in a budget plan submitted to the board to discuss during next month’s meeting.

“This has been very difficult financially; we know that,” Cable said.

On Aug. 24, the DHS board will ask questions and make recommendations after receiving more detailed information regarding the complete DHS 2021 projected budget. (Tax levy funding is only part of the full budget.) The board’s recommendations will go to County Administrator Kathryn Schauf for approval, and the DHS budget will go to the Budget and Finance Committee and the County Board, which gives final approval.

Other business

In the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center, the average daily population this June was 8.8 youth, compared to 11.6 residents in June 2019. It had 16 admissions in June 2020, compared to 32 admissions last June. So far, the center has had an estimated 290 admissions; at the same point last year, it had 441 admissions, a decrease of about 37%.

Total days spent in the facility by youth inmates were significantly down as well, from 4,968 days last year to 4,102 days this year, a decrease of around 17.4%. The facility is currently operating at 38% capacity; in 2019 its occupancy rate was 60%.

Those decreases are largely because of health precautions taken to limit the spread of COVID-19. As a result of fewer youth inmates, the juvenile detention facility is about $210,000 behind its projected revenues through May 2020.

In the Community Support Program, “clients appear to be more symptomatic during the past month, struggling with their symptoms of mental illness, chemical dependency, and the impact of the pandemic on their day to day lives,” according to a fact sheet given to the board.

The next DHS Board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24.