In the end, there were no Columbia County Board of Supervisors votes voiced Wednesday in opposition to a pair of resolutions related to the county’s services for veterans.
But before the vote was called on one of the resolutions, Supervisor Adam Field of Portage had an observation: “I don’t know why we would want to ask for less accountability.”
Field’s comment related to the resolution calling on state lawmakers to return the grants for county Veterans Service offices to what the grants were originally intended to be -- state money to offset the salary of the Veterans Service Officer, leaving more county money available for services for veterans.
Under new state rules, the state grants come in the form of reimbursements for specific expenses incurred by county Veterans Service offices -- reimbursements that state officials may approve or deny.
Another resolution, to specify that the duties and responsibilities of Veterans Service offices are under the jurisdiction of counties -- and not the state -- got unanimous voice-vote approval without comment.
Field, who works in the state Capitol office of state Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, said he inquired at the state Department of Veterans Affairs after the May 10 publication of a Daily Register story about the resolutions -- a story that included an interview with Columbia County Veterans Service Officer Richard Hasse.
Field said he wanted to find out why the change was made in the grant program. He said he was informed of a 2012-13 audit, which showed that some county Veterans Service officers were misusing the state grant money.
“It was not getting out directly to services for veterans, which is why they asked for more accountability,” Field said, adding that he had requested, but had not yet received, a copy of the audit.
Neither Hasse nor Assistant VSO Rebekka Cary was at Wednesday’s meeting, as both were attending mandatory training.
In his Daily Register interview, Hasse said the change of the grant program to reimbursements of specific expenses was made as part of the 2015-17 biennial budget. He noted, however, that Columbia County VSO stopped seeking the grant -- which, in Columbia County, had amounted to about $11,500 annually -- because the rules for reimbursement, and the decisions as to which expenses get reimbursed and which don’t, have been “confusing” and “subjective” in other counties.
Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf said Columbia County is not, as he understands it, the only county with concerns in this area.
“I don’t think this is a standalone issue for Columbia County,” he said. “I think there are VSOs in other counties that have similar concerns.”
Ruf said the Veterans Service office is subject to the same audit as other county offices, as well as a DVA audit, and its financial practices have been consistently found to be in compliance.
Supervisor Kevin Kessler of the town of West Point suggested that the County Board wait on a decision on the resolution until the DVA audit is available and until the Legislature returns to session.
There was no opposition expressed, not even from Field, during a voice vote on the resolution regarding the grant issue.
The County Board often considers resolutions taking a particular stand on state laws or policies. The resolutions, by themselves, don’t have the force of law, but they’re intended to be a statement to lawmakers of the county’s position on an issue -- particularly if multiple counties adopt similar resolutions.
But John Van Wie of Wisconsin Dells said the County Board’s approval of both resolutions shows support for Columbia County veterans.
“Putting this back in control of the county gives us more ability to help our brothers,” said Van Wie, one of three members of the county’s Veterans Service Commission. (The other members are Keith Miller of Fall River and Norm Bednarek of Portage.)
Van Wie said Hasse has demonstrated strong commitment to the well-being of Columbia County’s veterans, including keeping a close eye on legislation that affects services for veterans.
“He’s really a leader in a lot of things that are happening,” he said.