By Lea Kopke
SUAMICO – Local state lawmakers were vague when it came to answering specific questions at the legislative linkage meeting hosted Aug. 17 by the Howard-Suamico School District.
Lawmakers in attendance included Republicans Sen. Robert Cowles and Reps. David Steffen, John Nygren and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke.
Assistant Superintendent of Operations Mike Juech gave an update on the district’s financial situation.
He said HSSD was allocated $296,269 in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and has so far spent $127,000.
“That’s not including our online platform, our devices that we’re going to have to add to our fleet, our additional transportation costs, which is about $800 a day,” Juech said. “Are we finding ways to make that happen? Yes. Are there going to be additional costs? Yes, definitely.”
He said the remaining funds from the CARES Act are close to gone based on what HSSD has spent, and he expects well over $210,000 is still needed toward facilities and cleaning costs.
Juech said the district will be reshuffling finances to accommodate for these additional costs.
In discussion of the CARES Act, Howard Village Administrator Paul Evert said the village was allotted $319,000, but would not be spending the full amount.
“There’s no way we’re going to ever be able to spend anywhere close to that,” Evert said. “You can only buy so much Purell. And with 50 employees, you can only buy so many masks and laptops.”
He said he would be surprised if there weren’t other municipalities which also wouldn’t be spending their full allocation.
Evert asked what would happen to the leftover funds.
“I was hoping that at the end of the day, when November rolls around and we all put in our final reimbursement, that that money just doesn’t disappear to Milwaukee or something because there are other agencies that can use it,” he said.
Sky Van Rossum, Suamico village trustee, asked if there would be a way to use those funds toward local school districts.
“Is there a cohesive direction that we can come together as a community and are there state representatives to take to the governor and say, ‘Listen, if you really want to help us, you don’t have to ask for more money, you just need to help us lobby to be able to move this,’” Van Rossum said. “We need that voice to speak to the federal government.”
Cowles said he would keep this concern in mind.
“I’m going to check on this right away,” Cowles said. “I’m hearing from municipalities – and not just you folks – ‘What do we do with all this money?’ And if you are able to somehow use this to help school districts that would be great.”
Van Rossum said he believed the majority of both the Howard and Suamico boards would support such a decision.
Budget repair bill?
In terms of a budget repair bill, state leaders could not give specific answers to administrators because they still don’t know if one is needed.
Steffen said he commended the legislators present for their work thus far.
“By keeping the cost, the budget increases at a reasonable rate, hopefully we’ll get through this entire pandemic, this next year at least, without it negatively impacting above current impact of our state aid to schools and municipalities,” he said.
Nygren, however, said the lack of a budget repair bill does not mean a lack of budget cuts.
“It would be ideal, but to be clear, that wouldn’t mean the next budget doesn’t receive reductions,” he said. “Based on our ending balance the first year, we could potentially make it through the second year. But if those revenues continue – that’s why I said the budget repair bill could be a good thing, because you’re dealing with those issues sooner rather than later.”
Nygren said based on preliminary budgets, there is still the possibility there would be no repair bill.
“The report is not out yet, but the numbers I’m deciding from are basically from preliminary information,” Nygren said. “The way it’s looking is we may not need that budget repair bill for the second year, but the governor makes that declaration, the Legislature does not.”
Cowles said decisions regarding the bill cannot be made yet.
“Any day now we’re going to get projections from (director) Bob Lang and the Fiscal Bureau,” he said. “If it does require a budget correction bill, he’ll tell us whether the governor or Legislature has to do that.”
Cowles said if a bill was necessary, the governor would work on it and present it to the Legislature to be passed.
In this time of uncertainty, he encouraged the local governments to be careful with spending and save if able.
“We’re still sitting at 8-10 percent unemployment,” Cowles said. “I would be shocked if the increases in the second year that were promised in the last budget hold up. We do have a $600 million estimated rainy day fund that we can tap into. From my experience, I think it’s likely that we go after that. But conserve money. Let’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
Cowles said the bill itself is likely to not be passed until after the November election.