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County board fine tunes budget to get expenses down

As the Hubbard County Board pares down its expenditures to achieve an ideal levy number, some differences in style are becoming apparent among commissioners.

The requested expenses of the 2013 budget now sit at $9.29 million. Commissioners would like to shave around $200,000 from that figure.

Two commissioners, Lyle Robinson and Cal Johannsen are in the "Give 'em a number" camp.

They believe the board should simply assign department heads a number to work with and live with it. That's their job.

Commissioner Kathy Grell is sending a stronger message, specifically itemizing expenditures departments should do without: vehicles and positions that maybe should be cut from full-time to something less.

Should the county continue to subsidize the recycling operation to employ disabled persons?

Board Chair Dick Devine is enjoying his status as a "lame duck" - he won't seek re-election. But he wants to leave the county on solid footing.

Starting at a work session Sept. 26, the board began an exhaustive look, line by line, at the budget.

"It seems like when we get money we just can't wait to find ways to spend it," Robinson said last month.

Grell questioned whether the victims service coordinator position could be cut back, and whether a seasonal position like parks & rec director could be laid off during winter.

For instance, the county attorney's office is asking for $14,000 to fund the position that a grant only partially pays for. Could the position be three-quarter time, the board wondered, while praising the program.

"Right now we levy $25,000," for the parks and recreation department, which has few other levy dollars funding it. Instead of putting (the department head) on unemployment, we keep funding the position," Grell said.

"We're making it more complicated than it needs to be," Robinson countered. "Just assign them a number."

Wednesday's board meeting was more of the same.

Grell sparred with Sheriff Cory Aukes about his request to spend up to $32,000 to re-carpet and outfit the dispatch center before the new radio system gets installed later this year.

The carpet needs replacing, commissioners agreed. It should be replaced with flooring in the high traffic area.

But it was the cost of nearly $30,000 for three new workstations that Grell objected to, even though Aukes said there was more than enough money in the 911 fund to pay for the upgrades.

Grell reminded Aukes when the board approved a $480,000 quote for new radio equipment in May, she asked him, "Is this all we need?"

Aukes said the dispatch center gets very hectic during emergencies, as it did with the grass fires that broke out Tuesday.

New workstations would allow dispatchers to stand or sit at their stations, which could provide dispatchers more mobility to reach things especially when it's hectic, the sheriff noted.

Devine wants a decision made before the radio equipment gets here later this year.

"If we're going to do it for goodness sake, let's do it right," Robinson said. "We did it on the cheap side five, six years ago and it needs redoing."

But the disagreements highlight the financial pressure department heads are under to make do with less, and for commissioners to try to trim as much as possible out of the budget during an economic downturn that has hit county taxpayers hard.

Grell agreed to look into the requests and see if she could find something cheaper.

In other business, the board:

n Approved an ATM in the county office building for customers to access cash.

Grell wanted to make sure in doing so, the county didn't undercut the town's three banks in fees, so a transactional charge of $2.50 was approved, which is the standard rate.

n Approved an agreement with the state in the event of 2012 recount elections to be reimbursed 3 cents per ballot.

n Approved another salvage timber auction to clean up the July 2 blowdown near Becida. The auction is set for Oct. 16 at 10 a.m. in the Public Works Building.

n Approved a forfeiture for 2006 properties that includes five forfeited parcels and four parcels that will be a confession of judgment, setting up a 10-year payment plan.

n Heard that jail costs have been reduced significantly by offering inmates two cold meals and one hot meal per day.

n Discussed installation of Wi-Fi capability in the courthouse meeting room during the next phase of the current renovation project.

Sarah Smith

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

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