Eau Claire County had a good 2018, with increased downtown development, improved leisure activities and a stronger focus on agriculture, county leaders said at a Friday morning Chamber of Commerce event.
County Administrator Kathryn Schauf said in her State of the County address that the county is effectively working with other municipalities and area businesses to grow the region.
“We believe Eau Claire County, and all the organizations that make up this county, have this cohesion,” Schauf said. “We are going to, as a county government, continue to build that cohesion.”
Colleen Bates, who has been on the County Board since 1983 and is the vice chairwoman, raved about the positive impacts of the Pablo Center at the Confluence.
“It has truly turned around our downtown area,” Bates said of the performing arts center.
In leisure and education, the county has added LED lights to ski trails at Tower Ridge Recreation Area ski trails, and added 41 acres to the county forest, as well as rehabilitating 3.5 miles in the ATV trail system.
“We believe we have the quality of life to attract people to the area,” Bates said.
The county also has an expanded UW-Extension office providing a variety of services, they said. Schauf said officials are implementing real-time programming in the county.
“For every dollar we leverage in Extension, we get $3 in return,” Bates said.
Bates said that Farm Technology Days in 2020 will require about 1,600 volunteers, and they are already lining people up for the event.
Eau Claire County has seen a steady tax rate in the past decade, they said. In overall spending, the county is 57th of 72 Wisconsin counties in tax rate, Schauf said.
Crime, out of home placements, are concerns
Bates showed a graph that displayed a spike in felony cases filed in the county and a steady increase in the jail’s daily population. The daily jail population in 2008 was 261, but it had jumped to 291 in 2018.
Schauf also talked about providing health and social services to inmates in the jail.
“The outcome of this will be fewer detentions,” she said.
Schauf discussed a program that works with moderate and high-risk youth to reduce recidivism. It has prevented court action in 10 out of every 11 cases, she said.
The county has secured $5 million in state or federal funding to assist in health and social services, she added.
One of the largest areas of concerns is in child protective services, Schauf said. The referrals have increased by 47 percent since 2016. However, aid for that program has only increased by 9.5 percent.
“It’s an area that has been under-funded,” Schauf said.
Bates added: “We have an absolute crisis in serving that population.”
Bates said a treatment court also is paying off, with a much higher sobriety rate, and patients have an increased chance of success.
About 100 people attended the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Eggs & Issues” breakfast.