County commissioners continue struggle with 2009 budget

As the budget process nears the crucial finish line, Hubbard County continues to grapple with budgetary woes, reconciling the 2009 budget with available monies and state-imposed levy limits.

As the budget process nears the crucial finish line, Hubbard County continues to grapple with budgetary woes, reconciling the 2009 budget with available monies and state-imposed levy limits.

At last week's county board meeting, a proposed increase from the district court administrator's office to cover legal costs in child protection cases seemed to typify the frustrations Hubbard County commissioners are voicing, dealing with too many requests and too little money to fund them.

The state stopped funding public defenders for child welfare cases several months ago and the district court, a state office housed in the courthouse, indicated its budget for child welfare cases will increase from $10,000 to $60,000, a cost passed on to the county.

"We'll treat them the way they treated us," commissioner Lyle Robinson said. "What is it about 4 percent that they don't understand? Just like at home. If you don't have the money you don't do these things."

Commissioners have limited all future departmental spending to 4 percent for the coming year.


"There's mandatory and then there's mandatory," said Robinson. "Everybody thinks we've hit the bottom of the barrel."

"We haven't hit the bottom yet," commissioner Cal Johannsen replied.

The budget difficulties carried over into salary discussions when commissioners later were asked about what annual increases they should give non-union employees and the county's two elected officials, the sheriff and county attorney.

"We've been giving cost of living as long as I've been on the board," commissioner Dick Devine said.

The board briefly discussed separating the elected positions from the group.

"These are two people we don't evaluate," Robinson said of Sheriff Gary Mills and County Attorney Don Dearstyne. "They're elected by the people, just like you and I. The people are their evaluators."

In the end commissioners voted to give both non-union and the elected officials a 3 percent salary increase, just as all other county employees have received.

"Next year we have to approach this differently," Devine said. "It's reached the point in our economy where this is serious, serious stuff."


The commission also voiced some concerns over the law enforcement proposed budget. Earlier this fall, several departments were asked to submit revised budgets because they came in considerably higher than the board feels it can fund.

The resubmitted law enforcement budget was still $100,000 more than commissioners are willing to approve.

As is, the county faces cutting $700,000 from its general fund budget, plus trimming the $100,000 overage in the law enforcement department, if it wants to meet its 4 percent budget increase over 2007 and allowed under state law.

In other county business, the board:

-Voted to approve the purchase of surveillance equipment for the Sheriff's Department. The "body bug" will be used mainly for drug surveillance. The bulk of the $6,100 costs will come from a Wal-Mart grant of $5,000.

-Voted to pay contractors $137,830.75 for paving and curb improvements to the courthouse parking lot.

-Authorized the Public Works Department to obtain bids for the purchase of a new snow plow for 2009.

"Can we prolong this for a year?" board chair Cal Johannsen asked. "We've got contractors buying our used equipment in good shape."


"We're limping along with an '89 model," department head Dave Olsonawski told the commissioners. "We maintain them very well."

Olsonawski said the plow has been budgeted for and "if we wait until February or March we may pay 10-15 percent more."

"We have to have safe roads," commissioner Don Carlson said in voting to start the bidding process.

-Heard from St. Joseph's Community Health Manager Chris Broeker that no confirmed cases of flu have been reported in Hubbard County. The state health department confirms flu cases.

"It typically spikes in December to January," she said of influenza outbreaks.

And she reported to commissioners "next year flu shots will be free."

-Voted Robinson as board chair for 2009. He was nominated by outgoing chair Johannsen.

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