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Colfax still reviewing budget numbers

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  The Colfax Village Board is still trying to figure out what’s what with the 2013 budget.

The village board met again on November 8 to review the budget — and after two hours, gave up.

“We’ve had too many people working on the numbers,” declared Beverly Schauer, village trustee.

“Jackie (Ponto; administrator clerk-treasurer) is trying to work with something she did not create,” said Gary Stene, village president.

“I want Kathy Morse to come back and explain it to us,” he said.

Kathy Morse served as the interim clerk-treasurer for Colfax from early in 2011 until this past summer.

Stene said he would not sign off on the budget until he was sure he understood where the numbers came from and how they added up.

Stene also emphasized that his position on the budget was in no way, shape or form any kind of a reflection on Ponto or her work.

“I just have to know where the numbers are coming from,” he said.

The problem is that over the last two years, since the death of John Jahr, the Colfax clerk-treasurer for more than 30 years, the clerk’s office has had tremendous turnover, with no less than eight different employees in two years — nine if you want to count John Jahr.

First there was Cyndi Samson, who worked as Jahr’s assistant and continued working in the office after he passed away.

Then there was Kathy Morse, the clerk-treasurer in Rice Lake who was a good friend of Jahr’s, who worked in the Colfax clerk’s office on nights and weekends to help the village until a permanent replacement could be hired.

Jessica Eastman, also from Rice Lake, began working in the clerk’s office as an assistant to Morse after Samson resigned and was eventually hired as the deputy clerk-treasurer.

In the meantime, the village board hired Tom Cogswell, who was from Michigan, as the administrator clerk-treasurer.

After the village board terminated Cogswell’s employment last spring, and after Eastman took maternity leave and then decided to resign the position, Doris Meyer was hired temporarily for the deputy clerk-treasurer position, while at the same time, Kathy Morse continued her part-time employment as the administrator clerk-treasurer on nights and weekends.

At that time, Colfax Police Chief Pete Gehring was assigned temporary duty by the village to fill in as the village clerk during the day.

Meanwhile, Meyer was unable to reach an agreement with the village board about her employment and stopped working in the clerk’s office.

Finally, after all of that, the village board hired Ponto as the administrator clerk-treasurer, and subsequently hired Sheila Riemer as the deputy clerk.

Ponto, who began her duties as the administrator clerk-treasurer at the end of the summer, has been working diligently to try to straighten out the budget numbers.

The problem is that the numbers Ponto has available to her do not match up with the official budget numbers that the village published in the Colfax Messenger last fall and none of those numbers match up with what was reported to the state.

The budget published last fall was $1.7 million for the general fund. The initial (and highly tentative) general fund budget for 2013 is around $1.1 million.

The Colfax Village Board eventually approved a motion at the November 9 budget meeting to have Ponto and Morse review the budget together and then report back to the village board.

“This is nothing against Jackie …  but I need to have (the budget) explained so I can understand it. I won’t sign off until I understand it,” Stene reiterated.

During the budget meetings thus far, members of the Colfax Village Board have not discussed hiring a financial firm to conduct an audit that would perhaps shed some light on the tangled numbers.