Standafer says county is ‘fine’ under new Wisconsin budgetSt. Croix County Board Chair Daryl Standafer said the county is operating “fine” under the new rules created under Gov. Walker’s Act 10. He made the comments at the weekly meeting of the Hudson Thursday Noon Rotary Club.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
St. Croix County Board Chair Daryl Standafer said the county is operating “fine” under the new rules created under Gov. Walker’s Act 10. He made the comments at the weekly meeting of the Hudson Thursday Noon Rotary Club.
“That’s my opinion,” Standafer said. “You might get a different answer from some of the staff — there are all kinds of perspectives.”
Standafer said the county signed agreements with all county bargaining units before Act 10 went into effect. The agreement runs through the end of 2012.
“The agreements essentially contain all the same language that is available in Act 10,” Standafer said. “What the union gained was the ability to still collect dues though 2012.”
He said the county is not trying to yank benefits away from employees.
“We are going to be a good, competitive employer,” Standafer said. “Our goal is to bring down costs.”
He mentioned health insurance as an example.
“Whether it’s a 90 (county)-10 (employee) split, or 85-15, that doesn’t mean much unless we can negotiate the total cost and get those costs in line,” Standafer said.
Standafer, a retired banker, has been a member of the county board since first being elected in 1994. He was elected chair of the board in 2010. His district covers the village of North Hudson.
He told the Rotarians that he decided to run for the county board to address three issues that he considered to be concerns.
“First, I thought the board was too big; second the structure of the administration was not quite right; and third, I have always felt that the county should not be in the nursing home business,” Standafer said.
He has seen two of his three objectives accomplished.
In 2010 the size of the county board was reduced from 31 members to 19.
He believes that the smaller board has made it much more efficient.
“Under the old system we had 25 or 26 committees, most with five board members, so each member served on several committees, but no one saw the big picture,” Standafer said. “Now we have five standing committees, with seven board members on each.”
Standafer said each county board member has a better understanding of what is transpiring at the committee level.
“That makes everybody better prepared when issues come to the full board,” Standafer said.
He said the smaller board has also helped to alleviate some of the geographic issues on the board.
“There are still some tensions — east versus west; Hudson versus New Richmond; rural versus urban — but with a smaller board, each board member has a feeling that they are serving all of St. Croix County, not one small geographic area,” Standafer said.
Another change Standafer was happy to see recently was the change at the county’s top position, from an administrative coordinator to a county administrator.
“It’s no reflection on past administrative coordinators, but under that system, the coordinator was expected to do all the work, but with little power,” Standafer said.
The county looked at making the change when Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting left the county for another job. The county, earlier this year, hired Patrick Thompson as the county administrator.
“Ironically, Chuck Whiting’s new job is that of an administrator,” Standafer said.
Standafer’s third goal — getting the county out of the nursing home business — has not yet happened.
“It’s a philosophical thing for me,” Standafer said. “The county should not be competing with private industry. If we fall short, we just tap into the taxpayers. When private homes come up short, they go out of business.”
He said there are currently eight private nursing homes in St. Croix County.
“They all have empty beds,” Standafer said. “Contrary to what many people think, the county home is not a home of ‘last resort.’”
He said all nursing homes in the county — public or private — have about the same mix of private pay, Medicare and Medicaid.
The big difference is that employees at the county home have much higher wages and benefits than employees at private homes. For that reason, taxpayers have been subsidizing the county home for many years — sometimes in the million dollar range.
Standafer said the new bargaining agreement that runs through 2012 will cut costs by about $550,000.
“If the home can get off the tax levy by the end of 2012, it will probably continue to operate as a county home,” Standafer said. “If the tax subsidy continues, the mood would be that it is time to exit.”
Standafer said the county’s budget is in the neighborhood of $84 million. The so-called “big three” are Health and Human Services, Highway and Sheriff/Public Protection. He said revenue comes in thirds — the tax levy covers a third of the budget, fines, fees, etc. cover a third and user fees cover a third.
“The 2012 budget has a zero increase in the levy,” Standafer said. “Every budget at every level has been squeezed.”
He said the county will be looking closely at performance pay.
“We want to look at how we do the work,” Standafer said. “Some say performance pay won’t work in government — it can be done.”
Regarding the Stillwater bridge, Standafer is confident that the federal government will pass HR 850, a bill necessary to bypass the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
“The bill has bi-partisan support in both Wisconsin and Minnesota,” Standafer said. “Of course, we don’t know how a politician in Alabama will vote, but with bi-partisan support locally I think it will pass.”
Standafer plans to be in Washington, D.C., later this month to testify in favor of the bill.