Oconto County Board offers budget advice to new governor

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Funding sought for child protective services, 911 system
By: 

Warren Bluhm, wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com

When Gov.-elect Tony Evers starts work on the 2019-21 biennial budget to submit to the state Legislature, he’ll be armed with at least two suggestions from the Oconto County Board.

Supervisors unanimously passed resolutions last week asking the state to increase funding to child protective services (CPS) and restore the original purpose of a surcharge added to consumers’ phone bills for emergency dispatch centers.

The board passed a resolution crafted by the Wisconsin Counties Association asking the state to increase the Children and Family Aids allocation by $30 million to “cover a greater share of out-of-home care costs and increase staffing levels based on the caseload standards developed by the Wisconsin County Human Services Association so Wisconsin’s CPS system can meet its obligations.”

The resolution states that increased state mandates and expectations, along with the pressures of the opiate and methamphetamine epidemics “have brought Wisconsin’s child welfare system to the point of crisis” to the point where counties can no longer bear the lion’s share of the funding obligation.

Mike Reimer, county health and human services director, told the board that the Department of Children and Families asked for increased funding in the 2015-17 budget and was denied, so in the next biennium counties launched a concerted lobbying effort and obtained about $5-6 million for child welfare needs.

The effort is being repeated this year for $30 million, Reimer said. Oconto County’s share of the 2017-19 increase was about $35,000; if this were to pass the county could see about $175,000, Reimer said.

The other resolution asks the state to allocate $7 million from the state police and fire protection fee on telephone bills to fund the next generation of 911 system upgrades.

The fee’s original purpose was to do just that, and counties were able to obtain grants to keep their emergency dispatch centers up to date, Sheriff Mike Jansen said.

“A prior governor at the last minute decided to change that surcharge from going into a grant world that everybody had access to, to the state budget where it helped cover shared revenue,” Jansen said, referring to former Gov. Jim Doyle. “Most shared revenue goes to municipalities, not counties.”

As a result counties have had problems keeping their dispatch centers updated, the sheriff said. The resolution urges the new governor and Legislature to use the fee to fund the upcoming transition to a digital “Next Generation 911” system.

Both resolutions passed unanimously.