Vilas County officials were warned that balancing the county’s 2013 budget could force major cuts in spending and layoffs of county employees.
That appears to be the case after the county’s finance committee Wednesday approved and forwarded to the county board its proposed 2013 county budget.
If the proposed budget is passed as recommended by the committee, as many as 11 county employee positions could be eliminated as of Jan. 1.
Supervisors are to meet Nov. 13 to discuss and give final approval to the 2013 spending plan.
County finance manager Jason Hilger warned county officials and taxpayers earlier the county faced the task of making up for a $1.5 million deficit in the 2013 budget and that eliminating the deficit would call for tough decisions.
“It’s probably the toughest budget I’ve had to help deal with in the seven years I’ve been on the county board,” county board chairman Steve Favorite said.
“We’ve tried to work to reduce the duplication of effort in our departments and we hope by doing some reorganizing of employees and departments they can work together to get the job done more efficiently. I hope next year we won’t have to do this again.”
Hilger said the budget process is made even more difficult when tough decisions have to be made about employees’ futures.
“It’s difficult when you are dealing with deficits and cuts and having to let go people who have been good employees,” Hilger. “It’s not something we enjoy having to do.”
The county board could still make changes in the budget forwarded by the finance committee, but the recommended job cuts include:
• Three custodian positions in the maintenance department. The county will research having a private company provide the same services.
• One employee from the information technology department. Hilger said IT department director Chris Kamps had submitted a proposed budget calling for the elimination of one position. The committee had decided at one point to eliminate two positions in this department, but decided to eliminate just one position.
• One zoning deputy administrator position is to be eliminated from the county’s zoning and planning department.
• In the highway department, a secretary position would be reduced to half-time.
• One employee position in the treasurer’s office is would be cut.
• One support staff member position in the UW-Extension office would be eliminated.
• One half-time child support staff position would be cut in the social services department.
• A half-time position in the tax listing department would be eliminated.
• The position of assistant corporation counsel was filled recently, but that person has resigned. Corporation counsel Martha Milanowski told the committee she may have difficulty refilling the position.
At least temporarily the committee decided to eliminate funding for the position and provide Milanowski with an additional amount for using outside legal services to assist her. If she finds a person to fill the assistant position she will consult with the committee to see where to proceed from there. In the meantime the county will save money by using outside legal assistance.
Hilger said it’s possible the corporation counsel office could outsource legal services for child support cases like other counties. That could help ease the burden for Milanowski, he said.
• In the sheriff’s department one law enforcement clerk’s position will be eliminated and a dangerous drug investigator’s position will not be refilled because the federal and state grant dollars for the post will no longer be provided after Jan. 1.
The county has long had a policy of not refilling positions created by grant money if the county must pay the cost to continue the position.
More cuts in sheriff’s
According to Hilger, in order to make additional cuts in the sheriff’s department, sheriff Frank Tomlanovich had proposed eliminating the position of chief deputy for a savings of about $96,000.
“The finance committee did not agree with the idea and advised the sheriff to find additional cuts or savings elsewhere in his department that would equal about $90,000,” Hilger said.
According to Hilger, as of Thursday afternoon he had not received the information regarding the additional cuts in the sheriff’s department budget.
Still facing shortfall
Despite all of the budget cuts and adjustments, the finance committee still faced a 2013 deficit of $1,179,311.
To make up that difference the committee decided to take $488,000 from the department of social services, $150,000 from the county’s insurance fund, $300,000 from the highway department and $241,311 from the county’s general fund.
The proposed budget calls for a total budget of $29,219,000.
Looking ahead to 2014
Hilger said next year the county will start working much earlier in preparing the 2014 budget.
“I think now that I’ve gone through one year’s budget cycle people will understand the process,” Hilger said.
As part of the annual budget process Hilger has required department heads to submit budget proposals for the next two years. In preparing the 2013 budget proposed budgets for 2013 and 2014 were required which will help Hilger and other county officials to look ahead for the following budget year.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.