FOREST CITY | Elected officials requested an apology from the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors for comments made on Oct. 24 in its public meeting.
The request was made by County Treasurer Julie Swenson and County Recorder Kris Colby on Tuesday, Oct. 31, during the open forum segment near the end of the supervisors’ weekly meeting.
“I feel offended by the comments,” Swenson said.
The comments, which were reported in articles that appeared in the Oct. 29 Globe Gazette and the Nov. 1 Forest City Summit, were made in a discussion addressing the public health department’s — and the county’s — financial woes.
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During the discussion, Supervisor Mike Stensrud, who voiced frustration with the county’s financial situation multiple times said, “If we’re in the shape we’re in, it’s time to clean house in 2018 and 2020, and I’m including myself in 2020.”
Those are election years for Swenson, Colby and other elected county officials.
“That’s hitting a lot of officials,” Swenson said. “I believe we all do our part in trying to make the county work well.”
At the Oct. 24 meeting, Stensrud also called for a “full-blown audit” to be conducted on Winnebago County, which was discussed prior to the open forum on Tuesday.
“I think those comments just make us look like we’re not doing our job,” Colby said.
Stensrud said those comments weren’t meant for the offices of Swenson and Colby before expressing further frustration with the county’s financial situation and walking out of the meeting before adjournment.
“I’m very disturbed, very, very disturbed with where we’re sitting at right now in Winnebago County, and I’m part of it. I have to admit I’m part of it,” he said. “I think everybody needs to go home and look into the mirror.”
Prior to leaving, Stensrud had apologized for his “tirade” multiple times to his fellow supervisors throughout the meeting.
Swenson said her office also received phone calls regarding comments made by Supervisor Bill Jensvold, who is also board chairman, about increasing taxes to resolve the county’s financial woes and maintaining public health services.
Jensvold, who couldn’t recall the comments made at the last meeting but apologized for his involvement in the discussion, said the article created “the wrong perception of the county.”
“There’s no wrongdoing here,” he said. “We’ve got two things that have hit us, and that’s the public safety center and the upkeep on this building that has just drained every extra penny that there was.”
That hasn't stopped questions among board members.
“When we discussed our budget back in January and approved it in March, we had the money that we approved our budget for, so I’d like to know why we’re in the financial mess we’re in,” he said.
Elizabeth Thyer, with Gardiner Thomsen, the county’s annual auditing firm, said one of the reasons the county is in the situation it is, is the “amount of budget amendments that have been approved in the last few years” for renovations to the courthouse, which is nearly $300,000 over its bid at $957,443 with change orders, and the public safety center.
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“The revenues are not increasing to cover the expenditures that are going out,” she said, noting the county could’ve bonded for the courthouse project instead of paying for it through the general basic fund.
Other options include shift expenditures — as code allows — to different funds as well as applying for grant funding for further courthouse renovations because it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“There’s options,” Thyer said. “Everybody kind of needs to tighten their belts with their budgets as much as possible.”
The supervisors agreed that paying for an independent audit would be spending money the county doesn’t have to find out what it already knows. They didn’t, however, discuss the funding shortfall in the public health department that brought light to the county-wide financial issue last month.
“We need to sit down and decide what we’re going to do moving forward,” said Karla Weiss, Winnebago County auditor. “The past is the past. and we just need to be adults and move forward, and we got to fix it.”
And Jensvold said an audit isn’t going to resolve the issue.
“A lot of hard work is going to fix it,” Weiss said.