WALKER -- The Cass County Budget Committee recommended some employee cuts to the county board Tuesday to balance the 2003 budget and keep a relatively small reserve to offset potential state funding cuts.
The county board will consider these recommendations at the Nov. 19 board meeting before holding a public hearing Dec. 5 and adopting a 2003 budget.
"Expect major state cuts this year," Commissioner Jim Demgen, who sits on the county budget committee, warned his fellow commissioners, adding, "The state's in trouble."
Chief Deputy Auditor Larry Wolfe advised the board 60 percent of the county's income currently comes from the state.
Department head requests for 2003 ran $424,921 over projected county income. The budget committee identified possible savings by cutting $567,102 from non-mandated programs, giving the proposed 2003 budget a potential $142,181 positive balance.
The budget committee recommends designating this contingency fund for probable cost shifts from the state in 2003, public safety and county roads.
Positions the committee recommends cutting include the county purchasing director, one of the two sentence to serve crew leaders (combining the program into a single crew), a chemical dependency counselor and funding to the council on aging for the director of that program.
Additionally, social services fraud control would be cut by $28,020, the historical society request would be reduced by the costs for insurance and sewer and water bills, child welfare targeted case management second round funding cut by $25,000 and vulnerable adult/DD TCM revenue increased by $40,000.
Request for new positions in the assessing and probation departments would not be funded. The sheriff's request for three new deputies would be reduced to two new deputies.
Commissioner John Stranne said hiring two new deputies would amount to the board lifting a two-year moratorium on any new positions and open the door to requests for additional employees in other departments.
Commissioner Jim Dowson, a retired sheriff, noted the county's rise in serious crime the last few years and stated his position in favor the budget committee recommendation to hire two additional deputies.
Other proposed cuts from department head requests included some computer equipment and software, a tractor mower for the building and grounds maintenance department, reducing county newsletter costs by returning to third class postage or using a tax statement stuffer rather than separate mailing.
Lobbying to retain current program funding levels began in earnest Tuesday as Pat Butler of Longville told the board he did not see how anyone working at less than full-time as Council on Aging coordinator could organize and manage the senior transportation program.
Mileage funding for the volunteer drivers is proposed to remain at the 2002 level. Butler said transportation program use has increased so much that he expects to request a special allocation to carry the program through the end of this year, so that level of funding likely would be inadequate in 2003 as well.
Dowson asked whether senior citizen clubs might manage the program in each community, but Butler indicated many of those who use the program are not members of a local seniors club. Butler also said he does not believe volunteers could adequately organize the program as the paid coordinator has.
He reported all riders in the Longville area pay toward the program. Rides are provided mainly for medical services, not just to drive people to a shopping site, he emphasized.
The board suggested, however, that the amount riders are asked to pay might be increased to better cover the mileage rate paid to volunteers.
Public letters of support were received for the council on aging coordinator and sentence to serve programs.
On an issue which could affect the 2003 budget, the board received a report showing only Crow Wing County and Leech Lake Reservation of seven neighboring county or tribal government units have animal control ordinances and an animal control officer to enforce them.
Both focus their control ordinances on dog and/or cat controls.
Stranne said, "We're not going to hire an animal control officer when we're laying off people."
Demgen said his real concern is over people keeping animals such as tigers and bears on their property, not just dogs and cats.
Sheriff Randy Fisher said his department currently gets the calls the county receives for dangerous dogs.
"They expect somebody to respond," he said of the callers.
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