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Kandiyohi County employees will take furloughs

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WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County employees -- from the top administrator to clerical workers -- will be taking one day off without pay this year to compensate for Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotment of funds.

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The one-day work furlough will save the county $79,000 this year.

Next year, workers will take two days off without pay, for savings of about $158,000. The unpaid furloughs also apply to elected statutory officers: The county attorney, recorder, surveyor and auditor.

"This process includes all of us," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

In January, the commissioners agreed to forgo their annual salary increase.

"I'm really proud of our employees," said Kleindl, who praised the county's 414 full-time equivalent employees for working with the personnel committee on the budget-cutting plan.

He said department heads "stepped up to the plate" to offer suggestions and employees "asked good questions" when presented with the proposals.

"I want to acknowledge our employees," said Kleindl. "All the employees are giving up something."

In 2008, the state cut $430,000 from the county. This year, $329,000 was unalloted and next year the reduction will be $668,000.

Kleindl told the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday that numerous steps have been taken to offset the cuts, including not filling positions, delaying purchases of equipment and reducing overtime.

"It's added up to some real savings, but it just hasn't been enough," said Kleindl.

The remaining option was to ask employees to forfeit a day's pay. Five of the six employee unions agreed to the one-day furlough this year. The dispatchers were the only ones that turned it down. Kleindl said there will be other cuts in that department, like reduction of hours or layoffs.

In 2010, employees were not only asked to take two days off without pay but also to have their cost of living increase cut in half, from 3 percent to 1½ percent.

That move will save an additional $309,000.

Kleindl said three unions agreed to the 2010 reduction plan. One union could not take action because their contract is up for negotiations.

The deputies and dispatchers unions rejected the 2010 reductions, but Kleindl said there will be cuts to those departments anyway, in the form of layoffs or reduction in hours.

There won't be a department "getting by without some kind of participation," he said, adding that all the employees have worked together on the cost-cutting plan, even if they didn't agree with it.

"It was quite a long process," he said. "It was a good process."

County Attorney Boyd Beccue said employees in his department understand the financial situation the county is in and were willing to do their part.

"There was not one word of protest," said Beccue, who said Kleindl played a big role in that by holding meetings with employees to discuss options and keeping everyone "in the loop."

Kleindl said some employees requested that next year at least one of the furloughed days involve shutting down the county offices so that the public understands the effect of the unallotment and also carries some of the burden.

If employees stagger their time off so that offices can remain open, then the public won't have a direct connection to the unallotment, he said.

Beccue said that would be impossible for his department because of public safety issues.

Besides making cuts, the only way the county can address the reduced funding from the state is to increase property taxes.

Commissioner Richard Larson said other counties are doing what Kandiyohi County is doing -- making cuts and not increasing property taxes.

Commissioner Richard Falk said the only "silver lining of this financial mess" is that department heads have prioritized their budgets, which will be used when the 2010 budget process begins next month. "The worst is yet to come," he warned.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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