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KATIE ZERR: Reserve fund drain should cause alarm

Does the county have an endless stream of revenue from which it can continue to supplement budgets?
That is a question the taxpayers in Walworth County need to start asking their commissioners.
We pay those taxes. It is our right to know where the money is going. One only has to view the annual shrinking of the reserve fund to become more than a bit alarmed at the financial health of the county.
Where is the money going?
Comparing the provisional budgets of 2017 and 2018, there is one clear answer. The operating budget for the Walworth County offices have increased across the board, including an additional $50,000 in 2018 for the commissioners’ budget, $15,000 in the auditor’s office, $13,000 in the treasurer’s office, and $24,000 in the state’s attorney office.
But the most glaring is the increase in the budget for the county jail. In 2017 the provisional budget was $822,600. In 2018, that jumped to $1,075,050.
That includes the salaries and benefits of five new jail employees as recommended by jail consultant Brad Hompe.
It seems that it has become a habit of this board to allow revenues to be transferred for various reasons, against the advice of the person who watches the county’s money, auditor Becky Krein.
On several occasions, Krein has cautioned the commissioners about the continual additions to set budgets. She has cautioned the commissioners about overspending, asking from where the funds they are spending are coming. Krein has voiced a strong opinion about jail revenue versus expenditures and in one meeting told the commission outright that the county could not afford the operational costs of the proposed new 54-bed jail facility. Some commissioners ignore her concern about the cost, pointing out that jail actually generates revenue.
Krein has argued that the increase in operational costs would eat up the projected revenues and there would be little left to make the payment on a new jail facility.
Her concern is that the board is allowing spending that will deplete the county reserves. It is a sign of disrespect that they don’t listen to the person who watches the finances.
It was not long ago that the county’s reserves were at healthy level. That is not the case in 2017.
Those who know me know that I fully support law enforcement in all shapes and forms. I am not speaking out against the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department or the county jail. This is about the continual bleed of resources allowed by the several sitting commissioners.
This cannot continue.
Funds taken from the cash balance for the 2018 provisional budget totaled $1,117,003. As of the end of July, the cash balance in the general fund was $1,853,000. Another source of revenue if needed for emergency may be the $1.24 million in the buildings renovation fund.
The provisional budget for Walworth County was printed in the Aug. 23 edition of the Tribune. It shows that sources of revenue for the county (excluding grant funding for specific needs and projects) was $3,571,421, minus what goes to the state ($178,571). That leaves the net means of finance at $3,392,850, all of that going into the budget.
In the past four years, the cash balance applied (from the general fund) to the county’s budget shows a steady increase, draining the reserve funds.
In the 2014 provisional budget, $447,651 cash on hand was applied to the budget; in 2015, $528,150 cash was applied; in 2016 $620,447 was taken from cash balances to apply to the bottom line of the provisional budget. In 2017 that amount jumped to $737,540. For the 2018 provisional budget, the cash applied to meet the demands is $1,117,003.
It doesn’t take an accountant to see that funds taken from the cash reserves are draining that budget.
With no way to add revenue outside of taxes, where would Walworth County generate another source for raising money and keeping the reserves at a healthy state? It has been said that we cannot grow more land, and Walworth County doesn’t have an industry base outside of Ag and tourism. So we depend on taxes to generate revenue.
This commission has already said no to wind power revenue, so where do they think the funding to keep this county operating is going to come?
All of this comes down to the question that was asked at the last commission meeting that caused such a ruckus. Do they understand expenditures versus revenue?
Take a look at the provisional budget and see what cuts were made so that the county government had enough money to meet the budget requests,
Taxpayers will see cuts in the budgets of $20,000 to the abused and neglected child defense fund; $28,000 from the support of the poor budget; $3,000 from the support of the disabled fund; and nearly $10,000 from economic development.
Somehow the county has to stop the bleeding. Is a new jail the answer? Will the proposed revenue pull the county out of financial trouble?
There are many questions and no guaranteed answers. Are the taxpayers of Walworth County willing to take that risk?