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The Eau Claire County COVID-19 task force heard updated information about the county’s finances during its meeting Wednesday afternoon.

County Finance Director Norb Kirk provided information on May sales tax revenue, saying the county received just over $1 million that month, a pleasant surprise. Through the first five months of 2020, total sales tax revenue stands at about $4.16 million, slightly behind the same timespan last year, when the county received around $4.21 million in sales taxes.

Kirk cautioned that it is difficult to know exactly why sales taxes have not dropped as much as projected during the pandemic. He said a few theories are people spending disposable income on local activities like home improvements, boats and ATVs instead of traveling for vacation. Another possibility involves people spending their federal stimulus and unemployment money on local purchases. As a result, if the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides an additional $600 per week to people collecting unemployment, ends at the end of July, as currently scheduled, there could be decreases in sales tax revenue.

County Administrator Kathryn Schauf agreed that it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions but said another likely factor is local small businesses spending funds from the federal Payroll Protection Program.

Since June, county departments have provided additional financial projections for this year. Kirk said that new information resulted in revenue projections going down about $400,000 and spending decreasing about $900,000 for a net gain of about $500,000. That would bring the county’s overall expected deficit in 2020 from about $1.8 million to $1.3 million.

That recent gain, along with better than expected sales tax numbers thus far, are reasons for measured positivity.

“We’re in a good fiscal position right now, and we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to maintain that good fiscal position as we move through this year,” Schauf said.

Other business

Schauf said the county is paying attention to the “emerging issue” of local child care, both for county employees and the community. She said the topic is at a crisis level because of the uncertainty regarding schools reopening and the fact that many child care providers closed recently because of financial challenges brought by COVID-19. The county is working on potential adjustments with employees who are parents and facing difficult decisions about their children returning or not returning to school.

The task force discussed how county employees apply for unemployment during six anticipated monthly furlough days in 2020. County Human Resource Director Jessica Rubin said the federal government should cover all county employees’ unemployment benefits as a result of the furloughs, resulting in savings for the county.

The County Board will vote to approve or not approve monthly furloughs during its meeting Thursday at 7 p.m.