County plays guessing game

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Budgets normally are cut-and-dried affairs.

But like every municipal and school district administrator in the state, Rock County Administrator Craig Knutson has had to do a lot of guessing to put his 2008 budget proposal together.

The Rock County Board saw the budget for the first time Thursday night and could approve the budget in November.

Q: What’s new in this budget?

A: The focus this year is on Rock County’s Human Services Department. Knutson has proposed eight new positions in the department.

“We’ve learned you pay now, or you pay later,” Knutson said.

Increasing human services staff could help keep juvenile offenders or mentally ill residents in the community, Knutson said. It’s better for those who need help, and the county can avoid the “very, very” high cost of sending them to state-run facilities.

“It’s an investment in the community that more than pays for itself,” Knutson said.

Q: What’s been the biggest struggle in creating the 2008 budget proposal?

A: “A combination of the state’s unwillingness to fund programs it mandates and state legislators not yet passing a budget,” Knutson said.

Q: How do you create a budget without knowing how much money you’ll get from the state?

A: First, you try not to clunk the governor, a senator or a representative over the head with Rock County’s 6-pound budget proposal.

Knutson tried to balance between optimism and pessimism as he looked at the options on the three budget versions and guessed which one would win in the end.

“I hope I’m right,” Knutson said. “Actually, I hope I’m pessimistic, and it’s better than I’ve been anticipating.”

The Senate, Assembly and governor have not been feeding Knutson the plans as they come together, so it’s been up to him to find numbers in the newspaper and online. Knutson’s been on the phone with the governor’s office for the last two days, he said, trying to get details.

Q: So what assumptions did you make?

A: Knutson assumed the county would get the same amount of shared revenue in 2008 as in 2007. The Senate’s version of the budget allows a 1.74 percent increase, and the Assembly’s version cuts shared revenue by 5 percent.

All three versions of the state budget raise the cost to send local juvenile offenders to state correctional facilities by 29 percent. The governor’s and Senate’s proposal provides money to cover the increase, but the Assembly’s doesn’t.

Knutson assumed the county would get the money.

He assumed the county would not get money the governor and Senate are proposing to increase Circuit Court functions.

All three versions of the state budget assume the state will cover two-thirds of a cut in federal money for child support.

In Rock County, that’s $222,097, but only if the budget gets passed.

Q: What’s next?

A: The county board will have three meetings—all open to the public—to review and approve the budget:

-- 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 5, Knutson will host a Q & A session with board members.

-- 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, the board will host a public hearing.

-- 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, the board could approve the budget.

Budget highlights

Highlights of the proposed 2008 Rock County budget:

-- Next year’s budget positively reflects strides taken in 2007 to reduce crowding in the jail, Knutson said.

Thanks to the electronic bracelet program, Community RECAP and renovations to the F Unit in the jail, Rock County could spend $500,000 less in 2008 to house inmates out-of-county than it did in 2007.

-- The 2008 budget proposal reaps the windfall of the half-percent county sales tax hike that went into effect in April.

The UW Extension predicts the tax will bring $11.4 million into the county’s pocket in 2008. Knutson is happy to say he plans to spend the same portion of that money on operational costs in 2008 as in 2007—$1.2 million.

The county will save $9.2 million for future jail expansion and spend only $1.7 million of the general fund balance in 2008. That’s about a million less then the county spent of its general fund in 2007.

-- The focus in 2008 will be the Human Services Department.

The department has reduced its staff by 42.6 positions since 1999 and should be commended for working hard to save millions, Knutson said.

But he said the time has come to put resources back into the department.

The Human Services Department is projecting a 20 percent increase in fees to send patients to state mental health facilities and a 29 percent increase to send juveniles to state correctional facilities.

“The difficulty facing the Human Services Department and many other county departments is exacerbated by the unwillingness of the state to adequately fund the programs it mandates counties provide,” Knutson said.

Also, caseloads are increasing for county employees. So far in 2007, the Child Protection Services Division has had more calls than it did in all of 2006.

To handle these changes, Knutson is recommending three new child protective services positions, two new positions for the Community Support Program and three new positions in the Juvenile Justice Division.

Grant money will pay for part of these staff additions.

Last updated: 8:59 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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