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Committee to discuss veterans office, ideas for referendum
By David Timmerman
Committee to discuss veterans office, ideas for referendum

Richland County Health/Human Services and Veterans Services Committee Chair Ingrid Glasbrenner wants the public to know that she, and the members of her committee are not trying to take anything away from the people who have served their country.

“I respect and care about veterans and that they have the services they are entitled to and deserve,” Glasbrenner said.

It is why she is hopeful an item that has received some debate in public, including a letter to the editor last week in the Richland Observer may become a non-issue by the end of this week.

The issue is where the Veterans Services office may be in the future, something that was discussed as part of what every committee for county government is dealing with - potential cuts before determining every item that would be put to the voters next spring as part of an operating referendum to cover a projected $7 million budget shortfall the county is facing by 2027.

Richland County has been negatively affected by declines in shared revenue from the state of Wisconsin, as originally set up in the 1990s to cap revenues for all local governments in exchange for aid.

The caps have stayed in place, even requiring decreases in the county budget in 2011, but the formula for aid has been cut several times over the past 25 years, resulting in a major budget problem for Richland County.

If not for Federal funds in relation to the COVID pandemic, the county would already be running deficit, but when those funds end, the county will see increasing budget shortfalls, with a projected $7 million in 2027.

This summer the Richland County Board set up an ad hoc committee to look at going to referendum to cover those operating shortfalls (that committee will have met Tuesday, which will be reported in next week’s Observer) on what items could be included in that question, which they hope to go to voters next year.

That committee then went to each county committee with goals of what they hoped would come from each of the departments they oversee, that could go to the voters, which was rejected.

The HHS and Veterans Services Committee had a projection of over $1 million to look at cutting.

Most of that money would come from HHS, one of the larger departments in Richland County, but one of the other items, in relation to the referendum numbers, is where there might be cost savings in all departments.

The committee did their due diligence by discussing the Veterans Services Office, which at only two people - the Veteran Services Officer and a Benefits Specialist, does not have many places where savings could be found, not without revising staff.

Glasbrenner said that during the discussion, the committee wanted to get pros and cons, and any cost comparisons on what options there were for what options there may be.

“There was no decisions to be made,” Glasbrenner stated. They just wanted an analysis from the Veteran Services Officer on what, if any options there were.

Not many savings could be found in a two-person office. For example, if the office were to move a benefits specialist to an administrative assistant, there would only be a savings of $4,000.

One of the other items was how to handle times when the Veterans Services Officer was out making home visits without another person at the office. Having the office closed at times when veterans may show up to find out about programs, or get an update on their status, was something the county wished to avoid, so one item discussed was moving from the County Courthouse to the Community Services Building to allow for staff in other offices to help handle veterans when main staff was not in.

The discussion of options is all preliminary, and Glasbrenner stated that they were waiting on more information from comparable counties which have similar number of veterans.

The HHS and Veteran Services Committee is having a special meeting Thursday, Sept. 29 where that additional information will be presented to the committee, as part of their continued look at both Veterans Services and HHS, and Glasbrenner is not sure if the rest of the committee will continue to be looking at the issue after that with the numbers.