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County implements plan to deal with cuts instate aid


Fri, Dec 26th, 2008
Posted in Government

PRESTON - Department heads were in attendance at the December 23 county board meeting with budget cuts totaling $545,102. The Local Government Aid (LGA) payment the county receives on December 26 will be $143,805 less than originally expected.

Governor Pawlenty announced on Friday, December 19, that a total of $110 million will be cut from second half LGA payments to counties and cities across the state. Pawlenty's cuts, in response to the 2009 Minnesota deficit of $426 million, are in the areas of LGA, human services and higher education.

In preparation for anticipated LGA cuts for the coming biennium (2110-11), during which a state shortfall of $4.8 billion has been forecasted, the county board has implemented cuts totalling $545,102. In the county's 2009 budget, $1,081,483 of County Program Aid was expected in revenue. A committee consisting of Commissioners Duane Bakke and Chuck Amunrud, and County Coordinator Karen Brown met with department heads on December 19 and 22 to come up with a plan that begins to deal with the substantial cuts expected from the state.

Departments will be making staffing changes, delay purchases, forego training and seminars, and more. Overtime for employees will be discouraged. All non-contract employees with the exception of law enforcement will take four or more days of unpaid leave before April 30, 2009. Bakke noted that after the legislative session, the days of unpaid leave could be increased if necessary. It was also proposed that Highway contract employees be offered the same unpaid leave requirements. The committee is also offering on a voluntary basis to full time employees a reduced work schedule or .9 employment or a 36 hour week. These employees would remain .9 for one year and be exempt from the unpaid leave requirement. The committee also proposed that an additional $50,000 could be used from reserves if needed.

Sheriff Daryl Jensen stated that he would be willing to let a couple people on his staff go to .9 and assured the commissioners that it would not affect public safety.

Appropriations will be frozen at 2008 levels to area agencies like the Ag Society, Tourism, SELCO and SEMCAC saving $8,000.

The above committee recommendations were approved by the board for implementation by the department heads. Amunrud thanked the department heads for their cooperation. Bakke warned that there could be a bigger cut from the state than anticipated and advised that efforts at cost savings be reviewed on a monthly basis.

The Financial Committee will do the reviews and report back to the full board each month. Bakke wants a review of the county's progress as well as a monitoring of legislators. Amunrud, Bakke, Karen Brown, Auditor Shirl Boelter, and Kandace Johnson will serve on this committee. The committee will strive to arrive at workable solutions and savings. Bakke wants members to talk to legislators about innovative ways to save and to develop transparency as to who is paying for what.

Meeting With Pawlenty

Duane Bakke who was recently elected second vice-president by the Association of Minnesota Counties met along with other AMC leaders with Governor Pawlenty in his office. Bakke said that it was a positive meeting. Pawlenty listened as county leaders discussed among other things the Redesign Project. He said that problems imposed on counties by the inflexibility of the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) was discussed. The MOE's have become unfunded or underfunded mandates according to a recent editorial by Paul Wilson, Olmsted County Commissioner and president of the AMC. Bakke said that state mandates sometimes cause greater costs and inefficiency.

The MOE's that counties see as putting pressure on county budgets because of underfunding include mandates like the housing of state prisoners in county jails. Bakke complained of limits imposed by state statute on versatility in funding of institutions like libraries.

Bakke noted that the governor had referred to the Redesign Project in his speech. The Redesign Project is an effort by the AMC to make government more transparent, flexible and innovative. The AMC is pushing for state legislators to lift mandates or make them more flexible to improve efficiency.

Social Service Director Thomas Boyd insisted that the state cannot "cut" its way out of the deficit. He was referring to Pawlenty's statement that the state could not "tax" its way out of the problem. Bakke said that there will be a discussion of the state imposed levy limits. He praised the department heads for their efforts and those of the board and remarked that Fillmore County will not be hurt as bad as other similar size counties because of their efforts.

Bakke noted that another rumored cut is the state support of the Sentencing to Serve Program (STS). In the past, Sheriff Jensen has applauded this program. Nonviolent offenders work on community projects including litter cleanup, trail development, flood control, storm damage cleanup and more as an alternative to jail or fines. Offenders are not paid. It was established in 1986 and was invaluable following the area 2007 floods. Bakke said that the state would save $38,000 if it killed the program. The question is if the program produces more than the supposed savings if it were killed.

Zoning Fees

Zoning Administrator Christopher Graves presented the board with an adjusted fee schedule for 2009. He remarked that fees have not been updated for some time and the increases will help cover expenses incurred. The changes were approved.

A resolution to move the responsibility of Ag Inspector from the Zoning Administrator's job description was approved. The Ag Inspector was responsible for testing the quality of crop seeds along with control of weeds and thistles. Amunrud noted that removing the responsibility will save the department about $12,000. Chairman Randy Dahl stated that it is an important job, but that it should be the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and is another unfunded mandate passed down from the state.

Mabel Property

A business property in Mabel is expected to be forfeited to the county on December 29. The property will be inspected by the county and secured with new locks on December 30 to insure public safety. The board approved the use of a small amount of general government funds to secure the property and to assure that no further damage comes to the property. County Attorney Brett Corson noted that there could be liens against the property, but with the forfeiture, the county will have priority.

Departure

The board had a reception for Commissioner Stafford Hansen as this was his last meeting as commissioner. Board members thanked him for his service. His wife Loretta joined in the celebration.

Shirl Boelter announced that Historical Society Director Jerry Henke is resigning as of March 31, 2009, after 28 years. She remarked that he has done an excellent job and will be missed.

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