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County looks to train staff in leadership, management

As Hubbard County sets its 2012 levy, commissioners are determined it won't be business as usual going forward.

The levy, set at $11.66 million for the county's revenue fund, is unchanged. But a sea tide of change will sweep through the main floor of the courthouse in 2012.

"One stop shopping" is the mantra commissioners keep reiterating.

The educational component

The county board heard a proposal by M State Director G. L. Tucker and instructor Debbie Johnson to draw up a specific educational program that would cross-train county employees from the auditor, treasurer, recorder, assessor, and licensing offices to essentially perform each other's jobs.

That way customers don't have to "run from office to office" to get their essential paperwork done, commissioner Dick Devine said.

It has been a goal that commissioner Kathy Grell is spearheading to educate county workers and amalgamate functions.

"We want a governmental services group," Grell told the M State representatives. The idea is to recreate the flow of work from a single departmental function to a multi-functioning group, she added.

"It's like letting them all out for recess and now they've got to get along," commissioner Lyle Robinson suggested. "It's a turf thing. All department heads on the first floor should attend."

M State officials envision an eight-week specialized training course in leadership, management, communication and other areas, with one-day courses offered each Thursday for three hours.

M State will get back to the county with the specifics and cost of the curriculum. Then the county will determine how many and what employees will go through the training.

County officials have not decided if the courses will be mandatory or voluntary.

Although commissioners have been careful not to suggest possible layoffs in the shift of responsibilities, they have mentioned one person in charge for the entire floor, not a slew of separate department heads.

Commissioners only appointed the auditor-treasurer, recorder, Solid Waste Management Officer and Environmental Services Officer for six months rather than one year, even though the latter two jobs are not included in the overall amalgamation.

The shorter appointments were "to facilitate the reorganization."

Retirements won't automatically be refilled, commissioners warned most department heads.

The budget

As commissioners held department heads to 2010 levy limits, a lively discussion ensued.

"We've almost squeezed 'em down to the point where they don't have any paperclips left," Robinson said.

Commissioners have held departments to flat spending levels for the past three years as the board was locked into union contracts that guaranteed employees 3 percent annual raises.

"We need to change how we're doing things," Robinson added. But he said county government may not be able to continue offering certain services it has in the past. He did not elaborate on what services those might be.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority levy will be $230,000. That agency 's budget has been combined with the Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission's.

Commissioners have fretted over the budget for months, figuring out how to essentially squeeze blood out of a turnip.

Talk of going to a 38-hour week was shoved aside as soon as it came up. And the board acknowledged its own actions have contributed to some departments' budget issues.

Last year the board approved hiring a third full-time attorney. Yet they still assigned Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne the same amount of levy dollars he was given in 2010 for the extra personnel.

And the Sheriff's Department budget has caused the most board heartburn.

Sheriff Cory Aukes presented what he called a "realistic budget" that included the growth of another full-time deputy position, Auditor Pam Heeren pointed out. That was $350,000 more than the board was willing to give the combined law enforcement and communications departments.

The board has been at loggerheads with the sheriff, each side refusing to budge. Aukes has hired a number of part-time deputies to try to defray overtime expenses, but can only do so much about that due to union contracts in place.

If a full-timer calls in sick at the last minute, the hours must be offered to another full-time employee under union rules.

Robinson reasoned if the board gave in and allowed each department head to spend what they had budgeted, "they're not going to make any effort" to make cuts.

"I think there's more that can be done there," Grell said of the sheriff's budget.

"I don't think they want us micromanaging their business," Robinson noted.

"Maybe personnel just aren't going to be there," commissioner Dick Devine said.

"When the taxpayer's checkbook is empty he needs to stop" writing checks, Robinson said.

"It might take some creative scheduling," Devine said of the road deputies.

Robinson suggested departments that can't make their budgets could not hire any new employees.

Board members asked Heeren to crunch some yearend numbers over the lunch hour to see how the law enforcement and county attorney budgets have come out the last few years.

She returned to the board in the afternoon to announce some surprises.

Although Aukes will have spent his full budget by yearend, jail administrator Sherri Klasen has frugally run the communications department of jailers and dispatchers, annually around 6 percent below anticipated expenditures. That savings can be used to keep the Sheriff's Department solvent, commissioners decided.

The county attorney's budget has been on average 5 percent less than allocated.

And at the end of the meeting, commissioners reiterated their pledge to the mantra and the education needed to get there.

Devine said he went through a similar experience as a State Patrol officer years ago when that agency tried to revamp itself.

"We don't want the trained core group to crash and burn," he cautioned.

"They'll have to lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way," Robinson said.

Classes are tentatively slated to start in January.

"It's worked in other counties," Devine said hopefully.

The board also voted to take no raises for commissioners and give the sheriff and attorney no raises this year.