Eau Claire County Courthouse

EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire County Department of Human Services is on pace to have significantly fewer losses in 2020 than in recent years.

Through the first seven months of 2020, DHS has losses of $11,528. That does not include a reconciliation error for about $230,000 that was found in the 2019 budget but will be recorded in the 2020 budget later this year. Even with that reconciliation error, if the department stays on the same pace as the first seven months, its losses would be much lower than the seven-figure overages in the past few years.

The DHS Board received this information during its meeting Monday and approved the financial statements for this June and July. Through July, the department has also mitigated $509,000 in eight areas this year. The largest of those comes from mandatory furloughs, which resulted in a spending decrease of $200,000.

Program audits

The board also discussed receiving further information about the department’s program audits, most of which are conducted by the state of Wisconsin at varying intervals. DHS Director Diane Cable said the additional information will be available before the Oct. 6 County Board meeting, when supervisors will consider a resolution that includes spending up to $75,000 for a program audit of DHS.

Colleen Bates, a County Board supervisor and DHS Board chair, said she didn’t recall any negative findings in recent years from program audits. Cable agreed, saying the department has received suggestions and recommendations but nothing “that has put any jeopardy to any of our programming.”

2021 budget

Next year’s DHS budget request is for $36.06 million, down from the initial request of about $37 million. As part of balancing next year’s budget, the department would need to decrease spending and increase revenue by a total of $1.58 million. That is because the initial 2021 tax levy budget was $10.16 million, and it is now estimated at $8.6 million.

The department outlined to the board nine potential adjustments to balance next year’s budget: decreasing staff mileage; reduce overhead in professional services; contract a position in family services; reduce alternate care; increase MA revenue; increase Midway crisis stabilization revenue; reduce hospitalizations; reduce adult placements; and increase juvenile detention center revenue.

If approved, those changes are estimated to result in $640,349 of increased revenue and $938,551 in decreased spending, which totals $1.58 million. The most significant adjustment would involve decreasing the DHS alternate care program by $326,556, a “high” risk move. There are five other moves considered high risk, all of which would result in budget impacts between $190,000 and $265,000.

Juvenile Detention Center update

At the Northwest Regional Juvenile Detention Center, the annual occupancy rate this year is estimated to be 51%, down from 60% in 2019. The center continues to operate with COVID-19 restrictions and has not had any confirmed coronavirus cases, according to a fact sheet presented to the board.

The board received information through the first eight months of 2020 from anonymous monthly surveys filled out by detention center residents. Satisfactory ratings are considered 80% or higher.

Resident survey results from this January through August include:

  • I have opportunities to visit with my family, talk on the phone or write them letters: 92%
  • Staff members expect me to do well: 90%
  • Staff members treat one another kindly: 86%
  • Overall, my stay in detention was acceptable: 81%
  • Staff members try to understand me: 50%
  • Staff members make me feel important: 44%

Director update

In her update to the board, Cable addressed recent public attention regarding the department’s finances and an ongoing criminal case against a former DHS employee.

“Over the past several months, the department has been portrayed by the media in some stories and in some public meetings, in a manner that has been unjust and not representative of the department, services, or staff,” Cable wrote. “Human Services provides services to protect, prevent, and care for the wellbeing and safety for those we serve. We have been and continue to be responsible through our operations and delivery of services.”

The next DHS Board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26.