An Oneida County subcommittee charged with taking a closer look at county programs and their costs approved recommendations Monday to remove the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program and the county's dive team from the chopping block.
The funding opportunity committee's action is part of the county's preparation for budget hearings next month and eventual adoption of the 2020 budget in November.
Oneida County board chairman Dave Hintz, who is also chairs the funding opportunities committee, referred to a multi-colored spreadsheet which listed different county departments and programs, some of which have already been identified as candidates for cuts or saved from the budget axe.
Hintz began the meeting by making a motion to keep the AIS coordinator position at a cost of $61,000.
"I'm taking the position, and I think this group talked about it before ... I feel the AIS coordinator's position is significant, is critical and we should maintain that," he said. "We can discuss this further, but I think that's the position I would like this committee to take. In fact, I'll make the motion that we consider the AIS position as a critical position."
Hintz's motion received a second from committee member Steve Schreier.
Committee member Billy Fried referred to items on the spreadsheet color-coded orange, which signifies programs yet to be considered for serious budget discussion.
"The things in orange, many of them got assigned to committees of jurisdiction," he said. "I believe there were a number of us on this committee that didn't necessarily support a lot of these ideas but we said, 'OK, send it back to the committee of jurisdiction' just to get their take on it. So, it's hard for me to vote on your motion until I know what the committee of ... we didn't get a report back from that committee of jurisdiction, correct?"
The committee of jurisdiction for the AIS coordinator position is the Conservation and UW-Extension committee.
Hintz said there hadn't been a report back to the funding opportunities committee, but that hadn't stopped the committee from taking action on other issues "where we said they're on the backburner and we're not gonna pursue."
Robb Jensen, who serves on the conservation committee, said a recommendation was made at the panel's last meeting to continue funding the AIS coordinator position at $61,000.
"That's what I wanted to know," Fried said.
Hintz's motion passed unanimously.
Fried, who is also a member of the county's public safety committee, said the recommendation from public safety was that the $23,000 budget item for the Oneida County dive team be removed from the orange section of the spreadsheet.
Highlighting a note in the spreadsheet that noted there would be $23,000 in savings for the county if the program were eliminated, Fried said there have been discussions with Oneida County sheriff Grady Hartman and chief deputy Dan Hess about the program.
"If we did not have the dive team and had to call in an outside agency, that savings, you know, would quickly go away," Fried said.
Hess said the cost to the county in using an outside source would depend on the number of calls needed in a given year.
Fried said Oneida County could likewise pick up revenue by having the dive team available for law enforcement and emergency service agencies in neighboring counties.
"It was desirable as far as an asset to performing the duties the sheriff is given through state statutes," he said. "So, the recommendation coming back (from public safety) is to not dissolve the dive team."
Fried made a motion to that effect and Schreier again seconded.
Jensen asked how often the dive team is called out per year.
Hess said he didn't have specific numbers with him, but the team is dispatched "several time" a year.
"The reason I'm asking that is because we're trying to balance risk and reward," Jensen said. "Obviously, having a dive team would help reduce the risk in terms of responding quickly and not having to rely on another county."
But, he said, what also needs to be looked at is the number of times occurrences happen.
"That, if in the last three years, we've utilized the dive team three times or four times and the estimated cost each year to do that was $5,000, then I'd have to say we still need to consider the cut," Jensen said. "If the data shows it's been called out seven times a year and to have brought a different dive team in would have cost $100,000, that's a pretty easy decision for me to make."
He began to say he understands Oneida County needs the service when Hess interrupted.
"I believe it was called out, at the top of my head, this year six times," he said. "It was more last year, but we're getting into the fall time when the ice is gonna start. We typically get more calls in the fall."
While the dive team hasn't met the revenue line item this year, in years past the team has generated $1,500 to $2,200 each time its been dispatched to another county, Hess noted.
"We've lost some revenue," Jensen said clarifying. "Some potential revenue."
"Yes," Hess said.
Fried's motion was ultimately approved unanimously, but not before Hintz said the dive team "could be challenged" in November when the full county board finalizes the 2020 budget.
"This committee just has recommendation authority," he explained.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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