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State cuts loom heavy on minds of commissioners

Fri, Mar 7th, 2003
Posted in Features

"Counties will face some very heavy lifting to meet the challenges presented by the Governors budget proposal." That was the message from the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) during a video presentation conducted by Policy Coordinator Karen Brown. The presentation outlined the states 4.5 billion-dollar shortfall based on Novembers revenue forecast. According to the AMC, revenue for the projected 28 billion dollar budget will come from personal income tax, $11.5 billion (40%); sales tax, $11.5 billion (40%); corporate income tax, $1.9 billion (7.5%); state property tax $1.2 billion (4%); and other taxes, $1.9 billion (7.5%). This money will be spent in the following categories: education, $11.2 billion (40%); health, human services and corrections, $7.65 billion (27%); local governmental aids, $3.08 billion (11%); higher education, $2.80 billion (10%); and all other combined categories $3.36 billion (12%). The problem with the balancing act of revenues and expenditures is that state spending will continue to increase, with the 2002-2003 budget falling in the red by $356 million. To help offset this situation, the governor wants to cut county aids by $189 million with 1/3 of this amount being lost in fiscal year 2003-2004 and the remaining 2/3 being pulled out in 2004-2005. Following the video presentation board members and several department heads analyzed what the cuts would mean to the county. Coordinator Brown said AMC recommends each county put together a team to evaluate overall effects of proposed budget cuts within their own territory. The team will look at human resource factors, the ability to avoid layoffs, possibility of early retirements, and reviewing positions. AMC also recommends communicating with other counties and seeing if anything can be shared."Each department head needs to prioritize," said Chairman March Prestby. Commissioner Duane Bakke agreed, saying department heads must tell the board what they can and cannot do on a very lean budget. "The first year is bad, the second year really cuts deep," said Commissioner Chuck Amunrud. He was in favor of putting a team together. County Board member Helen Bicknese shared this view as well. Commissioner Randy Dahl felt the hatchet job is politically driven, just putting more pressure on the counties and it "comes down to the Commissioners" to sort things out. "Youll have to face the people you say no to, not the state," pointed out Sheriff Jim Connolly. He felt that counties, which have been efficient, are now being penalized, as their budgets had very little cushion to begin with. Amunrud questioned how effective a project can still remain if they are cut back, say, 50%? Dahl pointed out the unfairness to counties that have forged ahead with new, sometimes experimental projects, which have panned out and now may have to be shut down. Lora Friest, of the Soil & Water Conservation District, felt the board needs to give the departments a percentage or a dollar amount that must be cut. "Well work it out," Friest said.The biggest cost in running the county is writing out checks to its employees who help people, said Coordinator Brown. Cutting people is cutting services and thats not an answer. Dahl pointed out the cost of laying off trained people that the county has worked hard to educate and maintain. Bakke asked the question of just how well can offices run if some positions were taken down to a .8 full-time equivalent rather than full time. This would help the budget somewhat. The board will schedule another public information meeting and bring to it more updated state information if available.County Attorney called to serve in reserves Brett Corson, the countys newly sworn in attorney, didnt get much of a chance to get comfortable in his new role, as he has been called to serve his country. Corson, a member of the reserves for the past 14 years, has been called to active duty with May 23 being his last official workday at the county. Corson will be going oversees for approximately one year working in civil affairs.Other business Tracy Hanson, president of the Fillmore County Ag Society, met with the county board to discuss the societys concern over an insurance fee reimbursement. Like everyone else, fair board funds have been cut into. Hanson wanted clarification on the reimbursement and when it was to be paid back. Commissioner Bakke felt the money should still be in their budget, as it appears the society was reimbursed twice by accident. Hanson had a copy of their financial report from October 1, 2001 thru September 30, 2002. He pointed out areas where the new ag board felt money had been spent unwisely in the past. The board will research the exact figure to be reimbursed and Hanson assured the board the society would be able to produce the funds. Hanson also said the commissioners will be kept in the loop in regard to the Ag Societys financial state.The board accepted the resignation of Sheryl Johnson, PC/Network Technician, effective April 30. Approved returning the .8 position to full status contingent on the reduction of Technician Assistant position. The county will advertise in-house with the right to advertise outside if the position cannot be filled.

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