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County signaling level budget for 2010


Fri, Jun 12th, 2009
Posted in Government

County Coordinator Karen Brown asked the board's direction to department heads in planning the 2010 budget at the June 9 meeting. She wanted to be able to give department heads notice as to limits on salary and wage increases. Brown warned that a possible 50% cut or more in Local Government Aid (LGA) from the state would have a substantial impact on the county's budget. At this time, possible insurance rate increases add to the unknowns.

Chairman Chuck Amunrud said they are looking at a flat budget from 2009 to 2010. Commissioner Duane Bakke agreed and suggested department heads should run their 2010 budgets exactly the same as 2009, sitting still for a year. He acknowledged mandated services may require increases. If a flat budget couldn't be maintained, they would need to target areas for cuts.

Amunrud said department heads needed to get the message that the board is serious about living within their means, not raising the levy, which means a wage freeze.

County auditor/treasurer Shirl Boelter asked if a freeze would include cost of living increases (COLA) and step increases. It was determined that the state froze both. Commissioner Randy Dahl called for a freezing of the 'clock.' Bakke remarked that department heads may have to consider a reduction of employees, as "we have nothing to work with." Brown reminded them that hour cuts to possibly .8 would be an option.

SWCD

Two of the five members of the Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors, Travis Willford and Tim Gossman, and District Administrator Donna Rasmussen, gave an overview of their programs and monies dispersed in 2008.

Almost $2 million in federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) money was dispersed to landowners in Fillmore County in 2008 which doesn't include Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land payments. They emphasized the return on the county's investment in various programs was $17 of federal funds for every $1 spent by the county and $7 of state funds for every $1 spent by the county. A large portion of the funding is targeted in an effort to maintain or improve water quality.

State cost share funds helped land owners with erosion control, feedlots, grazing management programs, flood relief and paid for long term easements. SWCD staff provide educational activities and assist in planning ordinances with an eye on conservation and protection of water sources. Several water quality monitoring studies were implemented.

Gossman stressed they strive for budget efficiencies and cooperation with the county. Rasmussen maintained part of their mission is to provide financial assistance to land owners.

Rasmussen was asked about the handling of complaints coming into their office about violations by land owners. Most people with a complaint don't want to file a signed complaint with the Zoning Office, but ask the SWCD staff to look into it. Gossman said a letter is sent to the offending land owner and this results in a resolution to about 95% of the complaints with the land owner fixing the problem.

Gossman suggested that those issues that aren't resolved need to be followed up for enforcement with a formal signed complaint. Zoning Administrator Christopher Graves said in his understanding of the 1996 ordinance, anyone can formally sign the complaint, including staff, which allows further action.

Other Business in Brief

• Eagle Bluff Director Joe Deden and Cris Gastner, EDA, briefed the board on the plans to apply for a grant up to $500,000 for a Deep Energy Reduction Project in conjunction with the learning center. The EDA board had recommended the county board support the grant application. The county board passed a resolution in support of the application.

About $100,000 of the grant money would be used specifically to do a "deep energy reduction retrofit" on the director's residence at Eagle Bluff. The house was built in 1973. Other modifications, including solar units along with the retrofit, would total about $250,000.

The retrofitted house with super insulation and a high efficiency air handling system is to be used as an educational tool for the public. The goal is to reduce energy consumption in the house by more than 70%. The system should capture 90% of waste heat. Deden suggests the house could be energy efficient enough to be heated with a 1500 watt hair dryer.

• Ashley Stinson, Human Resources, said the candidate chosen by committee to fill the open County Surveyor position has requested an upgrade due to his experience from the offered starting salary which is less than $50,000. The request was for more than $55,000 which would still be a reduction from his salary at his current employment.

Commissioners Marc Prestby and Tom Kaase felt the candidate was aware of the salary offered by the county when he was interviewed. Amunrud commented that there is a precedent to hire above the minimum starting salary for an experienced department head and that this candidate is very well qualified and familiar with the county. Prestby insisted considering the current budget restraints, "We are in a different time." Bakke maintained the county needs a surveyor.

The board approved the offer of a salary of $51,885 with Kaase and Prestby voting against.

The probationary period for all new employees was extended to one year.

• Debris Grant applications will not be accepted after June 22 at 4:30 PM. Prestby said funds are still available to be used by property owners who had expenses related to debris removal from the 2007 flood.

• The board approved the purchase of a computerized information system, Westlaw PRO, for the county attorney's office. The issue had been tabled from last week. County Attorney Brett Corson explained the licensing agreement for the law library does not allow for use at multiple sites, making access to that system difficult.

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