About 11 Vilas County employees who faced the threat of losing their jobs in 2013 can rest easier.
By a vote of 13-7, the members of the Vilas County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to amend the county’s 2013 budget, which had been proposed by the county’s finance committee. A majority of supervisors approved placing back in the budget the equivalent of 11.25 jobs that had been earmarked for elimination this coming year.
Supervisors voting in favor of retaining the positions in 2013 were Emil Bakka, Alden Bauman, Ron De Bruyne, Sig Hjemvick, Lorin Johnson, Leon Kukanich, Christopher Mayer, Dennis Nielsen, Gary Peske, Charles Rayala, Kathleen Rushlow, Erv Teichmiller and Linda Thorpe.
Voting against the idea were supervisors Maynard Bedish, James Behling, Mary Kim Black, Charles Hayes, Mark Rogacki, Ralph Sitzberger and Steve Favorite.
Supervisor Ed Bluthardt was absent from Tuesday’s meeting because of illness.
The positions that were scheduled to be eliminated, but were placed back in the 2013 budget included:
A half-time child support position in the department of social services; one full-time position in the treasurer’s office; a half-time tax listing position in the tax listing department; two full-time positions in the zoning department; a quarter-time position in the highway department; one full-time job in the UW-Extension office; three full-time janitorial positions in the courthouse maintenance department; one full-time position in the county’s information technology department; and two positions in the sheriff’s department.
By eliminating those positions officials had estimated the county would save approximately $678,810. But placing those jobs back in the 2013 budget that meant supervisors had to find cost savings elsewhere to make up for the increased spending.
During the public hearing portion of Tuesday’s meeting many of the comments included requests for the funding to be returned to the Civil Air Patrol and to the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation. But there were some citizens who expressed their opinions on the proposed county employee layoffs.
County resident Tom Nitz expressed opposition to the employee buyout program.
“You are allowing people to get things the general public doesn’t get,” Nitz said. “You guys need to do your job. It may be hard, it may be emotional, but I elected you to do your job.”
Eagle River Police Chief Mark Vanderbloomen, who is also involved with the local Civil Air Patrol, asked the board to restore the money for that group.
“I know you are also looking at possibly outsourcing some of the work of your information technology department,” Vanderbloomen said. “I think that would be a serious mistake.”
Charlie Gullan from the town of Lincoln also expressed opposition to paying employees to quit their county jobs.
“Extending their unemployment is not doing them any favors,” Gullan said. “You were elected to represent the citizens of Vilas County and we expect you to do your jobs. The deal you are offering is beyond generous and is more than the citizens in this county get. They don’t get anything that generous.”
Voluntary layoffs change picture
Several supervisors expressed the belief that because the county board earlier this month had approved a program to pay county employees for voluntarily quitting their county jobs, layoffs would not be needed.
Finance committee chairman and supervisor Chris Mayer said the process for developing the 2013 budget had been a difficult one.
County finance manager Jason Hilger had told county officials before they started work on the 2013 budget they already had a proposed budget deficit for the new year of about $1.5 million.
“This budget is the most unique one I’ve ever been involved in,” Mayer said. “We knew we had a structural deficit and we were asking ourselves how are we going to take care of it?”
Mayer said the committee, a number of supervisors and various county staff members had spent a considerable amount of time on identifying areas in the county budget that could be cut.
“Here it is at the 11th hour and we need to do something,” Mayer said. “We’re here to pass a budget. I don’t feel good about telling people they don’t work for Vilas County anymore. No matter what we do with this budget we know we have to trim the fat and it won’t be easy.”
Mayer then made a motion to amend the proposed 2013 budget to put all of the jobs that were proposed to be cut, back into the 2013 budget. After that was approved and further discussion was held, supervisor Erv Teichmiller proposed another amendment which called for removing from the budget funds that had been proposed to be part of the effort to eliminate the more than 11 county jobs.
Teichmiller requested the $130,000 budgeted for outsourcing some maintenance services, $50,000 for outsourcing some information technology services, $110,000 for unemployment compensation for the terminated employees and $186,000 for employee severance pay be removed from the budget to help pay for the cost of placing the jobs back in the budget.
It was also proposed the county’s zoning and planning department employee hours be cut to 30 hours per week during the winter months for additional savings.
Still had shortfall
Cutting those funds from the budget would only add up to about $476,000 in saving – or about $200,000 short of what placing the jobs back in the 2013 budget would cost.
Supervisors also added some additional expenses to the 2013 budget. They placed back in the budget $2,500 to be a contribution to the local Civil Air Patrol, placed another $50,000 in the budget for the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation and provided an additional $6,870 for the county’s Restorative Justice Program.
County clerk Dave Alleman also volunteered to have $6,100 removed from his department’s general outlay account. He said he had done some budget maneuvering and did not need the money for 2013.
To make up for the shortfall caused by Tuesday’s changes and the budget hole that had already been part of the proposed budget, supervisors approved taking approximately $637,000 from the county’s general fund to balance the 2013 budget.
The budget that had been proposed by the finance committee and placed before county supervisors for their vote Tuesday called for taking approximately $163,000 from the county’s general fund to balance the budget.
Increase in mill rate
The additional costs could not be added to the tax roll or the levy rate because the county was already at the maximum level it could tax county property owners.
Despite all of the last minutes changes the proposed county levy rate will remain at approximately $1.88 per thousand – an increase of about 5 percent over the rate set for 2012 of $1.79 per thousand or an additional $9 for a homeowner with a home worth $100,000.
Look ahead to 2014
After the budget gained final approval, Mayer and other supervisors agreed they will start a hard look early in 2013 on services that can possibly be outsourced by the county in 2014. He also said the county needs to search for more areas to receive funding.
“We’ll have much more time to discuss it and take a look at many possibilities,” Mayer said.
Supervisor Gary Peske agreed with Meyer.
“We need to start this much earlier,” Peske said. “It takes a lot of time to at this from a committee level.”
“The county should seriously consider engaging a grant writer,” Teichmiller said. “We could all benefit from it.”
“I’m not necessarily agreeing with outsourcing,” Hjemvick said. “But before we get on the plane we need to know where the plane’s going.”
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at email@example.com.