County budget ends lower, but many cuts left on the table
Here's a breakdown of what cuts passed, what cuts didn't and what cuts never made it to the floor.
Last week county board members announced they would be introducing a number of cuts. That number turned out to be 19 potential amendments (with some overlap). This past Thursday, only some of them made it to the board. Here is a breakdown of what passed, what failed and what never got a hearing. (Board members attempted several times to cut off debate on the main budget resolution, which would cut off any further amendments. In the end, after several hours, one of those motions finally passed.)
The result is millions off the levy and reductions to the mill rate. But, many controversial amendments either didn’t pass or were significantly reduced.
Fund NCHC debt with reserves: The first amendment to pass was proposed by John Robinson. It removes $3.4 million of debt payments from North Central Health Care from the tax levy and shifts it to reserve funding. Municipalities keep a certain amount in reserve funds much like a family might keep an emergency fund in cash. The county will contract with NCHC to adopt a repayment scheduled to replenish the county’s reserves.
Removing committee funds: The board passed an amendment that removes the Economic Development, Education and Extension’s $50,000 discretionary fund. Money from that fund in the past had gone to the Valley Fair, Ginseng Fest, child care studies, among other things.
Non-profit spending stays: The board rejected pretty handily (31-5) the idea of cutting off funding contracts with several area non-profits, including The Women’s Community, Marathon County Historical Society and Judicare. Some board members argued that counties shouldn’t be funding non-profits, but others such as Jake Langenhahn pointed out it would be unwise to approve something like that at the last minute; and Matt Bootz added that a lot of the services they provide under the contract are more efficient than if the county did it themselves. Oddly, one supervisor said they would rather see those services move inhouse even if it cost more; though the opposite argument was made in favor of the Nurse Family Partnership later on.
Reducing funding for the NFP:
The board narrowly voted to remove $620,000 funding for the Nurse Family Partnership, er, scratch that. The board reconsidered the motion and instead voted to reduce NFP funding by $140,000. NFP is meant to be a lower cost alternative to Start Right, which struggle to provide good data and return on investment. The program’s cost in 2023 was mainly due to startup costs; subsequent years would have saved even more. The program will with at-risk families to help ensure healthy outcomes later in life. Some supervisors said that without the full funding the program wouldn’t happen but Administrator Lance Leonhard said staff would work on it and see what the can do with the current allocation; the board could always allocate more if needed later on.
Reducing funding to the library system: County Administrator Lance Leonhard had already reduced the library’s 2023 budget ask by $350,000. Supervisor Dickinson proposed a further $369,000 cut; that was amended by McEwen to only $69,000, which is what was ultimately passed. Conservative board members suggested that the perception is those complaining about certain books in the library weren’t heard and the reviews dragged on longer than expected. Supervisor Michelle Van Krey suggested that the board members suggesting the cuts were punishing the library system with the cuts. County Board Member Jasper Hartinger (a junior high and high school classmate, in the interests of full disclosure) suggested that the notion that the cuts would largely impact the rural libraries was in fact retaliation for the retaliation. Basically, the library situation is a bit messy right now.
On a further note, it appears new director Leah Giordano is uncovering all kinds of malfeasance and mismanagement by the former leadership team led by former library director Ralph Illick. One example? Apparently the library has no inventory of the 70 computers it has for patron use — no maintenance schedule, nothing.
Why the cuts? It appears the library tends to have left over funds each year — especially with COVID and with the firing of management staff when the Ralph Illick sexual harassment/toxic work culture scandal emerged. (Including the accuser ALSO having done his own harassing, allegedly.) So, yeah, it’s messy.