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County directs departments to keep budgets lean for 2012

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Hubbard County department heads are receiving a "tough love" memo this week: Live within your budgets or we'll find someone who will.

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Signed: the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners.

Most departments included in the county's revenue fund were to receive the message.

Social Services and Public Works have already agreed to the new county mantra of doing more with less. Both agreed to work with the amount of levy dollars each department received in 2010. Actually it's the number they've lived with the past three years. They have separate budgets outside the revenue fund.

Other departments, such as law enforcement, could be feeling the heat.

The assessor's office, county attorney, building maintenance, veterans service office, communications, elections, cars, incidental, victims services and boat & water all budgeted their 2012 expenses higher than last year without submitting accompanying raises in revenues to offset them.

"You have to live within your means," reiterated commissioner Lyle Robinson, "If you give one department more you'll have to take it from somewhere else."

Department heads, in a form of revamping their budgets, "must show us a plan on how you're gonna make last year's budget," Robinson said. "There isn't anybody that can't squeeze something."

Continuing to fund over-extended departments has a tendency to drain the fiscally sound ones and perpetuate the unacceptable behavior, Robinson reasoned.

Frustrated commissioners want to cut $725,000 from the 2012 revenue fund to avoid levying more dollars than they did last year, assuming the county's labor unions agree to 0 percent employee raises. Negotiations are ongoing for three-year contracts.

But that may be an impossible task. For instance, the elections department has budgeted $48,000 for 2012. It needed no funds in 2011 because there weren't any elections, Auditor Pam Heeren said.

Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes said earlier this fall that he inherited some unrealistic numbers, and was presenting a bare-bones realistic budget for 2012. Important items such as training need to be funded, he told the board.

Commissioner Kathy Grell suggested the board tie upcoming department head performance evaluations to their ability to manage their budgets.

"We're going to assign them a number," Robinson said. "You either do that or we'll find somebody that can," he warned department heads.

"They need to understand they can't have any increases," commissioner Dick Devine said.

"They dang well better do it because they won't like the way we do it," Robinson said, noting cuts shouldn't be made by "someone that hasn't been in their office all year."

Commissioners scrutinized many county expenses at Wednesday's regular board meeting, including the $10,000 deficit the county's law library routinely runs.

"It used to be $5,000," said angry commissioner Dick Devine. "Now it's $10,000."

Counties by law must have a law library. Hubbard County's is rarely used. A committee is in place to oversee its operations, but it never meets.

Assistant Hubbard County Attorney Erika Randall, who serves as part-time librarian, has taken steps to cancel subscriptions and electronic services to cut costs.

Commissioners delegated Devine as the point man to revive the committee and reach a solution to fund the library in the future.

The fiscal message was quick to sink in. By Thursday morning buildings and grounds maintenance supervisor Lee Gwiazden submitted a revised budget that's in line with 2011's.

But the department heads unable to comply with the directive must schedule an appointment with the board for its Dec. 8 meeting.

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