Lincoln County Supervisors look to tackle $250,000 shortfall
Redistricting, going paperless among potential options to balance budget
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors discussed numerous ways to make up for a nearly quarter million-dollar budget shortfall in the county’s 2020 budget, as part of its monthly meeting last Tuesday, July 16, at the William Buedingen Training Center in Tomahawk.
Lincoln County Finance Director Dan Leydet presented multiple suggestions, approved by the Finance and Insurance Committee, to reduce to the $1,041,947 variance between the Preliminary Operating Levy ($12,897,846) and the 2020 Estimated Operational Levy of ($11,855,899).
Leydet stated the equivalent of two Correctional Officer positions will be eliminated from the Sheriff’s Department, something he stated had been done in the past.
“This is really kind of flipping money around a little bit. They have frequently open positions in the Sheriff’s Office’s Corrections Division. It’s been done for the last several budgets. The Sheriff’s Office has had a very strong record of staying within the budget with these positions out. That comes to about $152,000 for those two Correctional Officer positions.” Leydet noted.
Also within the Sheriff’s Office budget, Leydet stated $207,000 of outlay was removed from the Operations budget and was transferred into Capital Improvement Projects budget.
Lincoln County will receive about $118,000 in General Transportation Aid from the state due to the 10% increase in funding allotted in the state budget, signed by Governor Tony Evers July 3. The Highway Department requested $159,000 in additional levy. Leydet recommended removing $100,000 of that, which will be offset by the funding received by the state.
With the closing of Lincoln Industries at the end of the year, and North Central Health Care taking over its operations, $100,000 in equity will be transferred back into the General Fund. Leydet suggested using that equity to offset funds lost in the transfer in the first year.
“We will wean that off in years to come, but in order to balance this thing, I think we’re going to need that $100,000. So we’re basically going to apply funds, and it’s coming from that Lincoln Industries equity that’s coming back to the county,” Leydet explained.
With those recommendations passed by the Finance and Insurance Committee, the Operational Levy variance was reduced to about $282,000.
Leydet stated that although the variance is $282,000, contingency funds of about $500,000 from the start of the budget process will likely be “whittled down,” with $50,000 being taken from the contingency fund and allotted to the $282,000 variance.
“That’s $50,000 off that number,” Leydet said.
Leydet stated that the Finance and Insurance Committee wasn’t sure what the County Board was thinking moving forward, and the committee hoped the County Board would provide general areas for potential cuts, that they could discuss in their August meeting.
Leydet requested from the Board general areas of what they were open to cutting, “knowing that nothing is preferable.”
“You’re going to hear some things and you’re going to think, ‘Well, I don’t want to do that.’ Well, but then what are you going to do? It’s your budget. At this point, we need some kind of indication of where we’re going.”
The possibility of posting public notices and job openings on the Lincoln County website, rather than in newspapers, was discussed. Leydet stated doing so could save the county roughly $50,000 annually. The county currently posts notices in both the Tomahawk Leader and the Merrill Courier.
The Board also discussed potentially holding its monthly meetings exclusively in Merrill, rather than alternating between holding them in Merrill and Tomahawk. Not having to replace the sound system currently being used for meetings at the Buedingen Training Center in Tomahawk would save an estimated $24,000.
District 13 Supervisor Calvin Callahan stated he “would have no problem driving down to Merrill if it would save $24,000.” District 10 Supervisor Jeremy Ratliff also voiced his support for holding all County Board meetings in Merrill if it meant potential cost savings.
Several Supervisors expressed their support for the Board going paperless as a cost saving measure, with supervisors using devices such as tablets and laptops to access agendas and other county documents. The City of Merrill is currently computerized, District 21 Supervisor Corey Nowak noted.
“That expense now saves us money later,” he stated.
Training, IT support and access to internet in rural areas were discussed as potential difficulties in switching to a fully electronic way of doing county business. County Administrator Jason Hake stated cost analysis could be done and brought to next month’s Finance Committee meeting.
Supervisor Callahan stated he was willing to consolidate his district with another, as another suggestion for cost savings. According to Callahan, redistricting could result in a smaller board and in turn, a cost savings to the county, in terms of supervisor mileage and per diem expenses. Supervisors Nowak and Ratliff voiced their support for district consolidation, with Ratliff noting that costs could be high at first, and experience a cost savings later.
Supervisor Hans Breitenmoser stated that after discussing district consolidation with supervisors from counties that did so, an unintended consequence of shrinking the size of the board was that all the departments still remain. While the board would be smaller overall, department committees still require oversight and would have to be done with a smaller number of supervisors.
Currently, Lincoln County Board Supervisors are required to be a member of at least three oversight committees. If the board were to be minimized, supervisors would be required to be on more committees. As Breitenmoser noted, that could prove challenging for supervisors who have “day jobs” vs. others who may be retired and have more time on their hands.
The county has the opportunity to redistrict after the 2020 census, an option that won’t be presented again until after the next census is held in 2030.
Callahan stated he would be willing to take a pay cut as a Supervisor as a means of saving the county money. It was also suggested that Supervisors would no longer claim mileage expenses, which are allocated for attending committee and board meetings.
Also taking place at the meeting, Patrick W. Hommerding was sworn in as District 9 Supervisor. Hommerding replaces former Supervisor Bill Zeitz, who passed away in mid-June. Deborah Rauchle of the County Clerk’s Office was recognized for 25 years of service.
Kathy and Larry Tobin, former owners of the Tomahawk Leader, were awarded a Certificate of Achievement from Lincoln County. County Clerk Christopher Marlowe noted the Tobins have been “very strong supporters of county government.”
“Chair (Robert) Lee and the Board want to recognize you for your achievements, and just say thank you for all the years of coverage and the fine job that you guys have done with the Tomahawk Leader,” Marlowe said.
The next meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Lincoln County Service Center, 801 N. Sales Street, Merrill, on Tuesday, Aug. 20.