Dane County growth
One high-growth area in Dane County is this neighborhood where Madison meets Verona. File photo

A series of state laws written to apply to Milwaukee County could force local taxpayers to pay the state $59 million and require Dane County to surrender control of its child welfare system.

But local officials hope state lawmakers find a fix.

Dane County is on the verge of reaching 500,000 population in Census numbers expected to be released early next year, and that would make it subject to about 160 state laws that were written to apply to Milwaukee County, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk wrote in a memo to legislators obtained by the State Journal.

One of the laws would put Dane County’s child welfare system under state control and require the county to pay the state nearly $59 million.

“I don’t need to tell you how heavy a fiscal burden this would be to the citizens we represent or what a significant change it would be to the kids we protect,” Falk said in the Oct. 25 memo.

Falk’s executive assistant Josh Wescott said Friday that he expects legislators to fix the problem.

“There’s zero indication the state wants to take over Dane County’s child protective services program, and a relatively simple change in state statute will ensure kids continue to receive top-notch care provided by the county, and property taxpayers won’t be overcharged for these important services,” Wescott said in an e-mail.

The county’s child welfare system is a roughly $20 million budget item, far less than the $59 million that state law extracts from Milwaukee County to cover costs of operating its system, Wescott said.

“As the memo indicates, the county is working with the state’s legislative delegation on changing a statute that was designed solely to address a past problem in Milwaukee County,” Wescott said.

State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, current co-chairmen of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee, didn’t immediately return phone calls seeking comment. Nor did the Republicans set to lead the Legislature when Republican majorities take over next year, Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, or Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon.

The laws in question are written to apply to Wisconsin counties with populations of 500,000 or more, rather than naming the county in the statute.

The law requires that “a county having a population of 500,000 or more shall contribute $58.8 million in each state fiscal year for the provision of child welfare services in that county by the department.”

Falk’s memo to legislators with districts covering Dane County says there is no reason for the state to control child welfare in her county: “The state has shown no reason/desire to justify a take over of Dane County child welfare services and is pleased with our work — as opposed to the need for improvements/overhaul in the prior Milwaukee system.”

The Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey estimates Dane County’s population at 491,357. The 2010 Census numbers are expected to be released in April.