Dunn County opposes state reduction in circuit court funding

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board has gone on record as being officially opposed to the state of Wisconsin reducing circuit court funding by $11.8 million in the 2013-2015 biennial budget.

The Dunn County Board approved a resolution stating the opposition of county board supervisors at the October 15 meeting.

This will be taking state money from the county’s circuit court system, and the county will have to replace that money either through budget cuts or an increased tax levy, said David Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the judiciary and law committee.

The state requires that counties provide a guardian ad litem for those who cannot make their own decisions and interpreters for defendants who do not speak English, but now the state wants to remove state funding for those services, said Bob Walter, county board supervisor from Menomonie.

Walter is an attorney.

Kitz Cleary, county board supervisor from Colfax, wondered how much of the $11.8 million would come from Dunn County.

In 2001, the state decided that counties would be required to pay 47 percent of the funding for the circuit court system. In 2012, the state Legislature increased that share to 55.9 percent of the funding to be provided by the counties, said Judge Rod Smeltzer.

Over the years, “the state has eroded funding (for the courts) and has set the counties back,” Judge Smeltzer said.

The state Legislature’s cuts to the circuit court system will affect more than each individual county. On an administrative level state-wide, the cuts will affect legal education for judges, he said.

“This is the biggest cut the state has ever asked for from the courts. This is a serious matter,” Judge Smeltzer said.

Todd Welch, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said state government already spends too much money and that he wanted to research the issue of court funding before voting on the resolution.

Welch also suggested that someone knowledgeable about the proposed cuts speak to the county board at the November meeting.

Welch made a motion that the resolution opposing the state’s reduction in circuit court funding be postponed until the November meeting.

Steve Rasmussen, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, asked for a second for Welch’s motion.

After the third inquiry as to whether there was a second to the motion, Rasmussen declared that the motion had died from the lack of a second.

The Dunn County Board approved the motion stating opposition to the state’s proposed decrease in circuit court funding on a vote of 28 to 1.

Welch voted against the motion.