Budget hearings show departments cutting to bare bones

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Commissioners spent five hours on Tuesday listening to nearly all of the county's department heads present their proposed 2010 budgets. The information will be used by the county to set its not-to-exceed levy by the Sept.

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Commissioners spent five hours on Tuesday listening to nearly all of the county's department heads present their proposed 2010 budgets. The information will be used by the county to set its not-to-exceed levy by the Sept. 15 deadline.

While no decisions on the presentations were made Tuesday, commissioners briefly discussed cutting the dedicated 3 percent of the levy used to fund road and bridge projects in the county. Commission chair David Benson requested the dedication five years ago, and the money collected has been used to fund major projects in the county, including paving Knauf Avenue -- the gravel road that leads to the county's landfill -- this year.

"If we've got to cut, we've got to cut where the least pain is," said Commissioner Vern Leistico. "One of the least pains is (the) road fund."

"I don't want to cut off my foot and then realize I need to run on it three years from now," Benson responded, adding that he will push to keep the road funding in place.

Despite nearly all of the departments coming before them Tuesday with slashed budgets, commissioners said they need to look for more areas to cut. In July, each department was asked by commissioners to cut its 2010 budget by 10 percent to 15 percent.


Among cuts proposed by department heads on Tuesday were:

  • Pulling an estimated $19,736 from Rock-Nobles Community Corrections reserves to meet a 12 percent budget reduction. The agency estimates 2010 budget revenues at $743,020. RNCC director Jon Ramlo said he cut transportation and travel dollars, reduced funding for trainings and fine-tuned general expenses to reach the 12 percent budget reduction.

    "We're pretty tight," said Ramlo. "I don't think there's a whole lot of area where we can cut."

  • Emergency Management Director Dan Anderson presented his budget with a 5 percent reduction -- most of the cuts made by reducing travel and transportation costs, eliminating funding for printing, publishing and advertising, reducing dues, memberships and subscriptions and reducing general supplies. "I don't have any control over maintenance of radios for emergency management," Anderson told commissioners. "I would have loved to cut 10 to 15 percent, but between my salary and benefits, that's 81 percent of the budget."

    Anderson said the 5 percent reduction in the emergency management budget takes out any wiggle room. He cautioned commissioners that if a larger-scale emergency event, such as the late May fire at Minnesota Soybean Processors facility, would happen, he would need to come before the board to request funds.

  • Kelly Kruse, Information Systems coordinator, presented a budget savings of $33,363 for 2010. The money will be saved by pushing back a year the replacement of servers and starting to host its own Nobles County Web site again in November, which will eliminate hosting fees and Web site development work. Kruse said he will also pare down on professional and technical services the county has used in the past.
  • Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder shaved 15 percent off of his budget in 2010 by cutting overtime funding in half, not replacing a maintenance operator who is leaving at the end of this month, not replacing an engineer who retired in April and postponing replacement of trucks, motor graders and pick-ups. Overtime hours accumulate during the winter months, when snowstorms require plows to go out and clear roads outside of the normal work schedule.

    "We'll be out in the morning and coming in early in the afternoon (working from 6 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.)," said Schnieder, adding that weekend plowing would only be done when necessary and after the snow event has ended.

    "It's very possible that at the end of the day, if the snow is blowing, we won't be out for the people to get home," he said.

  • Lynn Wilson, Nobles County Recorder, presented a budget that represents a 10 percent reduction from her 2009 budget. She will increase notary fees, delay replacement of computers and shift money from the recorder's equipment fund to help meet expenses.
  • Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore presented a 4.2 percent cut in his budget for 2010, but cautioned commissioners that his budget is caseload driven. The cuts he identified including reducing the amount of services contracted with Ahlquist & Wiltrout law offices, and not proposing any equipment purchases in the coming year. "We're willing to do what's necessary to tighten belts," Moore said, adding that his priority is to maintain the positions he has in his office.

  • Sheriff Kent Wilkening said in order to reach the 15 percent budget cut requested by county commissioners, he would have to revert to a budget he had seven years ago. Wilkening cut about 6 percent from his sheriff's department budget, and approximately 6.5 percent from his jail budget.

  • Family Services Administrator Mary Fischer reported that the governor's unallotments to family services will impact the county's agency with a loss of $110,000 in 2010 and another $173,000 in 2011. Despite those losses, she managed to reduce the 2010 budget by 7.34 percent. To reach that reduction, she identified a 0 percent cost of living adjustment increase in the union contract, not replacing a social worker who resigned in June, not replacing an accounting position after an anticipated retirement in January and expanding shared service contracts with Pipestone County to make up for the vacancies in the department.

    Fischer encouraged the county to consider slowly growing the levy for family services to "keep pace with increased expenses and continued reductions." She said a 3 percent levy increase for family services would amount to keeping one child in out-of-home-placement (mental health or correctional facility) for eight months; keep four siblings in foster care for one year; provide for 67 days of inpatient hospitalization for adult mental health; or care for 22 consumers in need of 72-hour holds.

    "For a 15 percent budget reduction, we would need to eliminate seven positions," said Fischer. "We would lose valuable training and experience, which would take us years to catch up on."

  • Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert presented ideas for a 10 percent cut in the administration's budget for 2010. Ruppert said there will be some savings when an office worker takes medical leave in early 2010. Also, he reduced his budget for printing and publishing by $10,000, mostly due to the county's stance on not filling vacant positions unless necessary. The cost savings is due to not publishing job openings.

    Ruppert also identified potential new income -- billing Rock-Nobles Community Corrections and Nobles-Rock Community Health for his services.

    Benson was concerned about charging the agencies for Ruppert's time, adding that the agencies could turn around and bill the county for translator contracts -- a move that could cost the county more money than what it would recoup in fees for administration's service.

  • Librarian Roger Spillers presented a 2010 budget that features a 10 percent reduction; and Nobles County Assessor Byron Swart reduced his budget by 10 percent.

The County Board budget for 2010 notes a freeze in commissioner salaries, as well as a reduction in per diems due to fewer meetings being conducted.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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