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County approves meager 2011 budget

Calling Hubbard County's 2011 budget a "zero growth" one is a misnomer, but it's awfully darned sparse.

So what term does one give to a county asked to scrape by for another year with less money?

Hubbard County commissioners set the estimated 2011 net levy at $11.66 million Wednesday, only $293,473 more than last year's despite an overall 3 percent pay increase for employees.

Although the figure is $200,000 above what the state allows the county to levy, that can be remedied by designating expenses such as the jail bonds a special levy.

Proposed 2011 total revenues in the "Lyle/Cal" budget are an estimated $27,590,878 while proposed expenditures would be $27,867,650, leaving a deficit of $276, 872.

Those figures are actually down from the 2010 certified levy, when total revenues were $29,545,786 and expenditures were $29,560,867.

The proposed 2011 general fund budget is also less than it was in 2010, being reduced from the certified amount of $8,920,819 to the proposed amount of $8,360,700.

The "Lyle/Cal" budget arose when struggling department heads couldn't come down to board expectations making cuts. Board chair Lyle Robinson and past chair Cal Johannsen went through the books, assigned each department a number and department heads will have to figure out how to work with the same amounts they were given last year, including how to offset the union and non-union employee raises.

Some exceptions exist. The board elevated the Veterans Service Officer to a full-time position this year; the Emergency Management Director is now part of the Sheriff's Office, not a separate entity. That was combined with a part-time deputy position to create a full-time job.

Otherwise, department heads are being asked to do more with less.

"A budget is just a plan," Robinson said.

But that "do more with less" stance fell on a non-department that admitted it is financially teetering.

Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission director David Collins came before the board to ask for a $50,000 pledge to fund the office, up from the $30,000 it has received in past years.

He said he'd take $40,000.

"Recruiting jobs is old school," Collins told the board. Nowadays it makes poor fiscal sense to try to woo existing businesses to our area with promises of tax breaks and incentives.

"We're looking at our home grown industries," Collins said.

Growing local endeavors by providing a financial and technical support system for entrepreneurs is the best way for Hubbard County to proceed, Collins said.

It's a "quality of place," Collins said. People like living here.

Commissioner Greg Larson said in poor economic times, the county needs such efforts even more.

"Funding is key," Collins said. The office's budget has grown from $90,000 to a current operating level of $130,000 to $135,000. To continue on the present course would take an operating level nearer $150,000, Collin said.

The city contributes $40,000 to the office. Private industry makes up the difference, Collins said.

"At a time when we have horrible space needs we need to get some credit for that office space," Robinson reminded Collins. The REDC occupies prime office space in the first floor of the county office building, a highly visible spot.

Board member Don Carlson said if you added the free use of county offices, "we're ahead of the city when it comes to the whole package" of contributions.

The REDC was set up with a one-third split in funding envisioned from the city, county and private sector.

Collins said the private sector, despite weathering hard times, has borne more than its share of the expenses.

Robinson noted county offices that provide mandatory services are not getting budget increases, so he was hard-pressed to dole out money "for non-mandatory things."

Earlier in the day the board had already agreed not to give the REDC additional funds, saying they couldn't justify the increase.

"If we're going to give it, it's got to be taken from somewhere else," Robinson said. Which county department could withstand a $20,000 hit?

The increase was "unrealistic," Robinson noted. A disappointed but stoic Collins left the meeting.

The board took no official action on the request, but the likelihood of Collins getting additional funds seems bleak.

Meanwhile, there will be few new vehicle purchases in 2011, or big ticket items. The county has temporarily shelved a proposed expansion above the jail, saying now is not the time to spend an estimated $2 million renovating the space.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364