Club’s backers pack Sauk County budget meeting to support funds

November 15, 2018

Reedsburg Boys & Girls Club member Monserrath Ruiz speaks to the Sauk County Board during its annual budget meeting Tuesday night.

In prior years, the Sauk County Board’s annual budget hearing has garnered little to no public attendance.

That was not the case Tuesday night, when local Boys & Girls Club supporters took to the podium one by one, urging supervisors to leave a $25,000 contribution to the organization in the county’s 2019 spending plan.

“This place was the first place I’ve ever made friends,” a teenage boy told board members during an emotional explanation of how the club rescued him from depression that was brought on by years of bullying and abuse.

After more than four hours of deliberations, the board approved a $96 million budget that maintained funds for the club, and several other nonprofit organizations that receive annual county support.

Children, parents and club employees were motivated to attend Tuesday night’s public hearing after Supervisor Tim McCumber of Merrimac submitted proposals last month to eliminate county support for the groups.

McCumber, a freshman board member and Republican organizer who works as the town of Merrimac administrator, said he supported the club’s work. However, he said the $25,000 contribution seemed unfair to communities that don’t receive county assistance for their own after-school programs.

Supporters of the Boys & Girls Club of West Central Wisconsin, which has branches in Baraboo and Reedsburg, emailed McCumber this month urging him not to propose the cuts during the annual budget meeting.

On Monday, McCumber responded to those emails, but made no commitments. He wrote that the club seemed to be doing fine without county assistance, and cited tax filings showing the organization took in $83,459 in net income over a three-year period.

“I am certain that whatever the county board decides tomorrow evening, this organization will continue to do great things!” McCumber wrote in the emails Monday.

When the budget came up for consideration after Tuesday night’s public hearing, McCumber didn’t propose cutting the club’s contribution — and neither did any other supervisors. He even put forth an unsuccessful proposal to boost the club’s funding by eliminating funds for the Wormfarm Institute.

Several supervisors who were moved by the testimony of club supporters put forth amendments that would have upped the county’s contribution next year. Those failed due to concerns that they hadn’t been vetted by oversight committees.

In arguing for increased support to the club, Supervisor Tom Kriegl of Baraboo said the county’s investment in the club was minuscule compared to what the government spends jailing or institutionalizing people.

“If it just keeps one Sauk County child out of those institutions, we will get our money back,” Kriegl said.

During discussions on contributions to outside groups, the board unanimously voted to ask that two committees consider a new policy that would expand existing financial reporting requirements. That proposal was put forward by McCumber and Supervisor Wally Czuprynko of Lake Delton.

Amendment package approved

The board spent much of Tuesday night’s budget discussion considering an amendment proposed by Supervisor Kevin Lins of Spring Green, which included a list of six changes that he said seemed to have broad support.

The board ultimately approved Lins’ amendment with one tweak, proposed by freshman Supervisor Valerie McAuliffe of Prairie du Sac. Her change ensured that the county will maintain funding for a full-time agricultural education agent to assist local farmers next year.

Including Lins’ amendment, the board approved the following substantial changes to the $96 million budget its Finance Committee put forward last month:

Elimination of $70,546 for a public health dental hygienist.Elimination of $60,000 for a water feature on the county courthouse lawn.Elimination of $1.25 million to expand a parking lot at the county’s Baraboo office building.Shifting $10,000 in economic development funds to support for the Bar Buddies safe-ride program.Lowering the projected jail bed rental revenue by $74,032.

Bed rentals debated

As in prior years, supervisors spent much time mulling the revenue that the Sauk County Sheriff’s Office expects to receive by renting unused jail beds to outside agencies.

In years 2011-2017, the sheriff budgeted to take in $3.1 million in rental revenue, but wound up collecting nearly $5 million, according to budget books.

That has helped the agency end six of the seven years with a surplus and add more than $2.8 million to the county’s reserves.

Sheriff Chip Meister and his administrative staff say underestimating the revenue is wise due to an unpredictable bed rental market. They say the money saved when income exceeds what was budgeted helps the county maintain a positive financial position.

Critics say under-budgeting that revenue line causes the sheriff to rely more heavily on property taxes as a source of income, tying up money that could have been used by other county agencies. They have sought a more realistic annual estimate of bed rentals figures.

The board’s Finance Committee last month voted 3-2 to increase the rental estimate that was approved by the sheriff’s oversight committee. On Tuesday night, the board partially reversed that decision and lowered the revenue projection by $74,032.

Several supervisors noted that Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers wants to cut the state’s prison population in half, which may cause the state Department of Corrections to rent fewer beds from the county.

Finance Committee Chairman John Dietz pushed back on that point, saying the sheriff uses similar anecdotal examples year after year to justify budgeting for a dramatic decrease in bed rentals that never occurs. He said the county should use actual figures from prior years to estimate the revenue line.

“It’s crazy what people are saying here,” Dietz said about the supervisors’ predictions. “They’re trying to bounce around something that’s based on air. … We’re convoluting everything.”

Supervisors Bill Wenzel of Prairie du Sac and Czuprynko said the board should trust the sheriff and his staff to make projections, and that budgeting based on what occurred in prior years doesn’t make sense.

“That’s like figuring out what stock you’re going to invest in by reading last week’s Wall Street Journal,” Wenzel said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Update hourly