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County talks staff additions, bonding during budget work session

WORTHINGTON -- During a nearly three-hour budget work session Wednesday morning, Nobles County commissioners continued to examine and discuss the numbers as they approach the deadline to set a not-to-exceed levy in approximately three weeks.

WORTHINGTON -- During a nearly three-hour budget work session Wednesday morning, Nobles County commissioners continued to examine and discuss the numbers as they approach the deadline to set a not-to-exceed levy in approximately three weeks.

Updated budget summaries presented to commissioners Wednesday show a potential levy increase of 6.05 percent over 2016. In an informal survey of commissioners taken by Board Chairman Gene Metz, all want to see the final levy lowered to between 3 and 4 percent by the time the levy needs to be certified in late December.

The current levy includes cost of living adjustments of 2.5 percent and full coverage of a projected 13.1 percent ($168,000) increase in insurance for employees.

Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson walked commissioners through individual department budgets. Among departmental requests are:

  • One additional staff person in the county assessor’s office.

  • A summer temp worker for the county recorder’s office, capped at $5,628.

  • Three additional staff in the sheriff’s office to split time between court security, transports and work in the jail. Also, $200,000 has been identified for a single point of entry screening/security booth at Prairie Justice Center (PJC). The money would come from the county’s building fund.

Johnson said the community services budget currently shows a net increase of $79,000. However, there are concerns about rising costs for outplacements and out-of-home placements, and counties are now expected to pay more as state funding has been cut back.
A considerable amount of time was spent discussing the county’s public works budget and whether or not to create a ditch inspector position within the department. Commissioner Matt Widboom suggested the position be termed a water resources supervisor.

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“I support the position,” he said. “We’re not represented, we’re not prepared for all of these issues that are passing us up.”

Widboom said the new job could include inspecting all of the ditches in Nobles County during the first year of employment, then compiling a priority list for redetermination and doing “everything that is water” in the county.

“The last two years we’ve had the consensus that we need this position,” added Metz.

Funding for the position, estimated at $64,000 with benefits, was also discussed. Metz suggested the salary and benefits be paid two-thirds by the county and one-third by the ditch system.

As for the equipment the ditch inspector will ultimately need, Widboom suggested the county own the equipment and then bill departments for using it. He also said contracting the work out would be an option, as there are a couple of local businesses who have the equipment already.

There was also some discussion on the public works director’s request for a salary increase. Because Nobles County recently went through a pay equity study and operates on a pay plan, county staff objected to deviating from the pay plan.

Commissioners also discussed on Wednesday possible bonding scenarios to fund projects, including transportation.

“For state aid projects, we could bond for those projects and then commit those state aid funds to pay toward those bonds,” Johnson said, adding that the county’s public works director can put together a list of prioritized projects if the county chooses to bond.

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“I only support it if it has a strong road component in it and with state aid dollars going to pay it back to reduce the levy impact,” Widboom said. “As long as oil stays low, this would be the time to do it.”

Widboom also suggested delaying the replacement of the PJC roof until 2019, while Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr. said priority needs to be placed on window repairs at PJC.

Commissioner Marv Zylstra said he doesn’t support bonding for PJC garage expansion at this time, noting that many of the deputies and police officers keep squads parked at their homes when off duty.

“We should have the sheriff and the Worthington police chief present (the plan) if they’re serious about moving forward on it,” Widboom added.

Commissioner Donald Linssen said the garage expansion has been discussed for the past four years.

“I just think we either move forward with some of this stuff or we take it off the table,” Linssen said. “Either it’s worthwhile or it isn’t. We just keep bringing these things up over and over. We need to make some decisions here.”

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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