The Crow Wing County Board on Tuesday adopted its 2009 budget and levy - the lowest percentage increase in the county's levy since 1997.
The board resolution was unchanged since the county board set the preliminary tax levy. For 2009, the county increased its tax levy by 2.98 percent.
The 2009 levy of $35,183,775 is $1,017,916 more in levy dollars than 2008.
To get to that number, the county cut 26.3 full-time equivalent positions using attrition, leaving positions open and marking 10 employees for layoffs. Tuesday the board voted in favor of a hiring freeze, with the understanding that some of its operations, like the jail, are subject to state requirements regarding personnel numbers to work with inmates.
Deborah Erickson, county auditor, said the state has not released anything official but there are expectations aid money from the state will be cut - potentially up to 23 percent by year's end. Erickson said that could leave the county with a shortfall up to $1 million for 2009 and the county will have to find ways to fill the gap.
At Tuesday's meeting, the board voted to approve two labor agreements with the assistant county attorneys and ONCE supervisory staff.
"Clearly our staff has heard and understands the importance of addressing the economic issues that are confronting us all today," said Tamra Laska, human resources director. The county employs 450 people.
Laska said work to find savings included health plans with high deductibles for employees at substantial savings to the county. The county is moving from a traditional sick leave, holiday pay and personal time or vacation to paid time off. The county's supervisory staff - 23 employees - all agreed to a salary exempt status, meaning they will not collect overtime. The settlement for the wage negotiations included a 3 percent increase for 2009, a 1.5 percent increase for 2010 and a 2 percent increase for 2011, which Laska noted are below the average settlement in area counties of 3 percent each of those years. In addition, both bargaining units implemented drug and alcohol testing for prospective hires and for cause and reasonable suspicion.
Laska said the county is working on eliminating overtime pay for weekend work or overtime for work when a shift is extended.
"I'm grateful for (employees) for realizing the times we are living in and standing with us and we're standing with them because it's tough and it's going to get tougher and then it's going to get tougher."
Administrator Tim Houle said the labor negotiations were revolutionary from a labor/employer relationship and sharing of the pain. Houle said he doesn't think anyone would suggest solving the state budget crisis solely on the backs of employees but it is nice to have employees as partners in the process.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said the county has actually reached a team approach to government and included county employees up and down the line to create a new environment.
In budget discussions, the board agreed to provide flexible funding for technology allowing a year-end carry-over policy to promote purchasing habits that don't include a perceived need to spend all the money in the budget before Dec. 31.
Erickson said the county wants to move to making countywide technology decisions rather than having each department look at separate needs for desktop computers or printers.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.