County Board Overrides Dreier’s Veto on Healthy Beginnings Funding
By Sara Marls
Portage County’s Healthy Beginnings program will once again receive $40,000 in additional funding from county government, thanks to an override vote at Monday’s County Board meeting.
On May 6th County Executive Patty Dreier announced she had vetoed the supplemental funding for the county program, saying $100K for the program has already been built into the county budget. Originally the county had paid $140,000 into the program until last year, when a budget crunch forced the county to take $40,000 in funds from the county’s reserve budget.
Dreier said that was meant to be a one-time fix, and at the time asked leaders from each department to find cost-saving measures so county leaders didn’t face the same problem in the 2015 budget planning.
Dreier said she also approached UW-Extension, which operates the program, and asked for ideas on how to cut costs.
“I said if this program is so important to you, then bring me back a budget that shows me where to find it. There wasn’t one penny offered up,” Dreier said.
“It would have been easy for me to turn the other cheek, fill the bucket then empty it again, just like last year, to use funding again from a one-time source, reserves,” she added. “But we have a policy against using reserves for ongoing expenses.”
Dreier had proposed using the additional $40,000 to seed an endowment for future program use, an idea some on the County Board scoffed at.
“I ask you to look to the future of Portage County, the future of our children,” said Board Supervisor Matt Jacowski. “I ask you to consider the following information before you vote; without fully funding Health Beginnings, Portage County will lose $27,921 in matching federal dollars.”
Jacowski also said the program reduces child abuse and results in higher school performance, saying those issues needed more funding than the endowment could provide.
“If just one child is kept out of future social services programs, the $40,000 is saving Portage County taxpayers money,” he said.
Dreier said she’s been asked by several constituents to simply find room in the budget for the continued additional funding, but she said the county’s new new growth won’t allow to increase tax levy.
“We have levy limits and caps we didn’t have before. We are stretched more and more and have said no to many things in this budget,” she said. “I’ve asked the directors every single year to make suggestions about cuts, to bring forward answers, because we continue to cut from this same size pie every year the best we can while costs continue to increase and we have zero net new percent to grow it. I didn’t create those rules. Meanwhile, we’ve got how many new prisoners? How many new child welfare cases?”
The board approved by a vote of 22-1, with Bud Flood voting against, to fund the additional $40,000 in 2015 for the program, which works with first-time parents to prevent abuse and neglect and improve nutrition, among other educational elements.
The board has partially funded the program since 1997.