Try 3 months for $3

Above is a view of Dodge County's Pod J detention facility, seen through the porch of a 1977 addition. The pod was closed as of Dec. 17, in advance of a Dec. 31 deadline. 

JUNEAU — The agenda item seemed simple enough, and most of those attending Friday’s meeting of the Dodge County Board Finance Committee agreed it was a mere formality, but one committee member was not so easily satisfied.

The item was approving a nearly $500,000 transfer from the general fund to cover a Dodge County Sheriff’s Office budget shortfall. That shortfall resulted after the closure of Pod J, a low-risk detention center that both the county board and the sheriff’s office agree needed to be closed.

A portion of the old facility needs major repairs and no longer fills its needs. The beds in that facility were moved into the newer county jail facility, filling spots formerly leased to house federal prisoners. Since that revenue stream diminished in the lead-up to the Dec. 17, 2018, closure — a substantial budget shortfall resulted.

Sheriff Dale Schmidt informed board members of the projected shortfall at the time, because the decision to close Pod J had not been accounted for in the 2018 budget.

Still, Finance Committee David Guckenberger wanted answers as to why it happened and how to prevent it from ever happening again.

He was alone in expressing that concern during Friday’s meeting at the Dodge County Administration Building, and was informed by Finance Committee Chairman Dave Frohling that there would be no discussion beyond the fund transfer.

Members of the Judicial & Public Protection Committee also attended the meeting to give their input and recommendation to approve.

Dodge County Finance Director Julie Kolp gave an update on the latest shortfall figure, which includes $409,658 for lost jail revenue and $71,955 in additional Spillman technology upgrade and update costs. The latest figure, although not exact until the budget is closed out, is $496,597.

“We’ve had conversations regarding this situation, and at this time the option would be to ask for general fund dollars to cover this shortfall in revenue,” Kolp said. “Therefore it would be documented as an adjustment in the general ledger, and that is in compliance with state statutes.”

Guckenberger said, “I fully intended coming here to get an explanation as to how we got here, but since you want to limit it to how we’re going to fund this thing, my comment would be limited to when this can happen.”

Kolp said adjustments could take place any time up to completion of the annual county audit, but said, “it’s better to have all the transactions completed now so we can continue with closing the books for 2018.”

Guckenberger asked for other options for paying for the shortfall. Kolp suggested borrowing funds or using money from the county sales tax, the latter is not possible because sales tax funds are to be used solely for capital projects.

“We don’t have a lot of options here, but all I want to say is, what’s the urgency of having that take place on Feb. 8?” Guckenberger said. “This number is going to change, and there are sums that have not been entered. What’s the urgency?”

“In my mind, you would want to do that at the same time you do your carry-overs,” Corporation Counsel Kimberly Nass said. “Typically, this is a February board action.”

“I don’t see this as a typical situation,” Guckenberger said. “Being half a million dollars short is anything but typical.”

County Administrator Jim Mielke responded brusquely to Guckenberger’s challenges, stating that prolonging action will delay the process and waste staff time and effort.

Finance Committee member Donna Maly also indicated that a review of the sheriff’s department operations and finances should answer those questions to everyone’s satisfaction. That review is currently taking place, with results expected after a roughly 20-week process.

Both committees voted to approve the transfer, with Guckenberger casting the sole nay vote.

Later in the meeting, Kolp reported a preliminary estimate of $2.6 million in returned funds, potentially covering the sheriff’s department shortfall and a nearly $2 million allocation of funds to reduce the 2019 tax levy.

“The goal is always to return more than was used to build the budget,” Frohling said.

“It’s part of our process and something we’re very proud to accomplish,” Kolp said.

Figures await final county board approval.

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