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Human service funding cuts may hit budget hard

St. Croix County ended 2008 in a better financial position than expected, but administrators are bracing for the as-yet-unknown impact of state funding cuts for 2010.

Reacting to anticipated state cuts, the Finance Committee voted last week to ask all county departments to show how a 10 percent tax levy cut would affect their operations in 2010.

Although the audit isn't done, an early one-time payment and lower than anticipated spending by some departments mean the county will close its 2008 books with a higher than expected General Fund balance, reported Finance Director Michelle Pietrick.

At the same meeting, Health and Human Services Accounting Supervisor Jennifer Pempek said projections of the impact of the proposed state budget indicate her department will lose about $600,000 of funding in 2010.

"All indications are that the budget before the Legislature is going to whack Health and Human Services," agreed Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting.

"The frustrating thing is that we have people above us who can kick the can down the road," said Finance Committee Chairman Daryl Standafer of the impact that declining state revenue can have on local governments.

Whiting said he has been telling managers that if their departments are seeing less revenue, they need to find expenses to cut.

"Some of that makes sense," said Whiting. "Some of that will be impossible to do."

Administrators in other counties are thinking of employee furloughs as one way to cut costs, but he'd rather wait to see if that becomes necessary, said Whiting. He is though concerned about lags in revenues for the Health and Human Services Department.

The Highway Department will probably also see cuts in funding, but it can adapt by doing less construction or repair work, said Pietrick.

"Of course, the state budget isn't the state budget yet," said Whiting. He said it will be months before municipalities know how the Wisconsin budget will affect them.

"We're the end of the road," predicted Standafer. "Local government ends up being the solution for much of the state's structural deficit."

Whiting anticipates that little, if any, federal economic stimulus money will find its way down to the counties.

"The state is going to grab every bit of stimulus money they can," he said. "They're going to keep it."

On a brighter note, Finance Director Michelle Pietrick reported that it looks like the county, which had intended to pull $1.2 million from fund balances to cover 2008 expenses, instead added to the General Fund bottom line.

"We actually didn't use (the $1.2 million) and added to the fund balance by $500,000," said Pietrick.

The biggest contribution came from an early close-out of a tax incremental financing district in Hudson. This one-time source of funds brought in almost $772,000 to the county.

The Planning and Zoning Department, which gets much of its revenue from development-related fees, took in less than expected last year but also spent less.

Pre-audit numbers show the county jail under-spent its 2008 budget by about $215,000. Pietrick said that because the jail had fewer inmate hours, it spent less on meals, medical and other expenses for prisoners.