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Wadena county looks to cut more to prepare for unallotment

Wadena County commissioners scheduled an emergency department head meeting for Tuesday, Dec. 22 so they can trim another $123,000 from the 2010 budget to allow for proposed state unallotments next year.

Auditor/ Treasurer Char West told commissioners the county's general fund would be short by nearly $94,000 if the state goes through with a proposed unallotment of $203,629 in 2010 once the unallotment is subtracted from the net $109,885 in the preliminary levy.

Commissioner Bill Stearns said he and other commissioners had been under the impression that the net should read $233,000 after the board approved a special levy for the $233,000 in state unallotments the county received last year. A levy increase of .0098 would have brought a balanced budget, he said. He thought the 3.2 percent levy increase would go toward the county's general fund reserve.

Stearns suggested cutting at least $123,115 so the county can cover the $230,629 unallotment if it occurs in 2010. That would leave only about $30,000 to put in reserves.

"Otherwise we are really in trouble," he said.

Earlier in the meeting Bob Johnson from the state auditor's office presented the 2008 audit report, which painted a dire picture of the county's finances.

Johnson told commissioners that the cash balance for the general fund Dec. 31, 2008, was only 42 percent of what the state auditor recommends. The average cash balance in the counties of Norman, Mahnomen, Wilkin, Stevens and Douglas counties is 140 percent of the recommendation, he said.

The road and bridge fund is a little better at 30 percent of the recommendation with an average of the other counties at 48 percent, Johnson said. The social services cash balance is about 35 percent of the recommended amount.

The unreserved fund balances were also below recommendations. The general fund has an unreserved fund balance of $157,084 as of Dec. 31, 2008. That amount is only 3 percent of operating revenue and the state auditor recommends counties have between 35 and 50 percent of operating revenue in the balance, Johnson said. A 50 percent 2008 operating revenue for the general fund would be $2,791,043.

The road and bridge unreserved fund balance was about 12 percent of operating revenue, Johnson said, and the social services fund at about 2.5 percent of operating revenue.

"So again, all your balances ... are quite a bit lower than what we would recommend," Johnson said.

Stearns mentioned the commissioners' intention that the levy for the $233,000 in state unallotments would go toward bumping up the general funds balance reserve. He asked Johnson if he that was something he would recommend.

Johnson replied that, unofficially, he would.

"I'm not management, so it's not a management decision of mine," he said. "But given the financial situation that Wadena County is in, I would look to any sources of revenue that you could possibly look toward."

The county board had scheduled a finalization of the 2010 levy and budget for the Dec. 17 meeting but will approve it at another adjourned meeting Dec. 29 after department heads meet to make further cuts.