WALKER -- The Cass County Board Tuesday approved budget committee recommendations for the 2004 budget with a 4.19 percent levy increase, but calling for cuts of nearly 10 full-time equivalent employees.
Four of those will be employee layoffs and the remaining cuts are anticipated from resignations or retirements.
The 9.5 full-time equivalent cuts include one person from extension services, 1.75 full-time equivalent from the auditor-treasurer office, 1.25 full-time equivalent from building and grounds, 3.5 from health, human and veterans services and two from public health.
Overall 2004 budget expenditures are proposed to run about $40 million up from about $39 million in 2003. Of that, nearly $19 million would go for employee wages and benefits.
The board expects to discuss the budget further during November and December board meetings. A public hearing to receive citizen input will be Dec. 4. The board will adopt its final budget and levy at its Dec. 15 board meeting.
Citizen members on this year's budget committee are Ken Eggers, Robert Maroney, Larry Martinson, James Sandelin and Richard Tappe. Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson and Commissioners Dick Downham and Rusty Lilyquist complete the commission.
They recommend freezing the employee pay plan in 2005 and negotiating only short-term wage contracts. They also recommend the county consider pursuing a regional gravel tax, with local governments exempt.
The liquor license fee would increase to $1,500 for 2004, with future rates being adjusted to remain consistent with surrounding cities and counties.
The budget anticipates $100,000 less interest income on county investments for 2004.
With no funding included for a local satellite to the University of Minnesota's new regional extension services, the budget committee recommended leasing or selling the county's Community Resource Center in Pine River to private parties.
A market analysis of solid waste and recycling costs and fees was recommended to ensure income covers costs. Solid waste assessments should be based on housing units for developed Indian trust lands, resorts and common interest community plats, the committee recommended.
Cass should discontinue Mississippi Headwaters Board funding in 2004. The budget committee recommends MHB ask the Legislature to approve exit strategy for MHB as soon as possible.
The budget committee recommendations the board approved call for not funding in 2004 any external agencies such as county fairs, Cass County Historical Society or the Initiative Foundation. None of these received county funding in 2003.
The board approved this, despite accepting an award Tuesday from the Initiative Foundation for the county citizen-staff accomplishment of writing without hiring consultants a new comprehensive plan and despite Board Chair Jim Demgen's praise for the work the Initiative Foundation does.
The budget calls for increasing debt over the next three years to expand county road improvements. Fees charged for 911 signage will be studied to ensure those fees cover costs.
The senior transportation program administration will be moved from the Council on Aging to Health, Human and Veterans Services, with funding to the Council on Aging for a staff position to be eliminated.
Non-conservation land parcels will continue to be sold, with a no net gain or loss of total county administered land maintained.
Most county equipment expenditures in 2004 will be for computer-related and vehicle replacements. One software program approved for the county recorder's office is designed to prevent the need for hiring additional employees.
The proposed budget sets aside $166,635 in a contingency fund, to be used only for non-recurring expenses.
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