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Commissioners get line-by-line look at next year's budget, and it's not pretty

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl gave department heads a directive early this year to prioritize programs and find ways to cut costs and trim budgets for next year.

That thorough combing of expenditures and revenues was evident when the Kandiyohi County Commissioners got a line-by-line look at the proposed 2010 budget and levy during a special budget meeting on Thursday.

The preliminary $56.5 million budget is $3.7 million less than last year and the proposed levy increase is 1.7 percent.

"I've never seen a budget like this before," said long-time auditor Sam Modderman.

"It's so lean."

The commissioners were pleased with the low tax levy increase and said it was much lower than what other counties are proposing.

But it didn't come without some pain.

Most county employees will have two-day furloughs and a reduced cost of living increase of 1.5 percent next year.

Departments that didn't agree to the furloughs will have lay-offs.

Some purchases and maintenance of facilities were delayed, said Kleindl.

The building fund was cut by $850,000, capital equipment expenses were reduced by $490,000, public works expenses trimmed by $1,322,600 and the general fund/solid waste fund reduced expenditures by $1,421,667.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said this kind of budget is "not sustainable" for two or three years. Deferring maintenance on facilities, he said, "will catch up with you."

Besides the cuts, the county will use $371,800 in family service reserves to help fill the gap that was made by Gov. Pawlenty's unallotment.

The county will lose $668,000 in 2010, which is on top of the $329,000 lost this year and $430,000 lost in 2008 from unallotment.

Modderman said using reserves one year may be OK, but said he's concerned about having reserve funds for 2011 and 2012. He said the county needs to build its reserve fund.

Nearly every department submitted a budget levy that was either at or near the 2009 rate, said Kleindl.

"That wish list has kind of disappeared," said Commissioner Richard Falk, who liked the scaled back expenditures and said he wanted to see even more trimmed from some areas, including the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and the Humane Society. He did convince the other commissioners to reduce the budget for aerating lakes in the county.

"The danger of having a flat budget is that you're delaying and deferring things and eventually the bubble is going to pop," said Kleindl.

"It's a riskier budget. We're running a tighter line," said Jay Kieft, family services director, while giving commissioners an overview of his department's plan. "It's going to be a tight year."

Along with cutting expenses, the county is looking at ways to increase revenues, without much success.

The commissioners quickly dismissed a proposal to increase building permit fees to generate revenue. The current cost of those permits is the one thing the commissioners hear the most complaints about, said Chairman Dennis Peterson.

Revenue generated from the county jail is also decreasing.

From January of 2006 until January of this year, the county typically generated anywhere from $90,000 to $112,000 a month in revenue from the Department of Corrections for housing state prisoners in the county jail.

But the state is now using their own prisons more instead of leasing space from counties and the revenue has fallen sharply for Kandiyohi County. In June and July of 2009, the revenue was $45,000 to 42,000, respectively, and it's estimated to be $39,000 in August.

Sheriff Dan Hartog said it's possible the county may close one of the jail pods and reduce staff because of the reduction of state prisoners.

Kliendl said revenue generated from housing state prisoners has done what it was designed to do -- pay a hefty portion of the bonds needed to build the law enforcement center. Other counties that have just built new jails with hopes of housing state prisoners may have a hard time making it cash flow, he said.

Falk said if judges would sentence people to jail instead of probation it would be less costly for counties.

The commissioners are expected to meet at 1 p.m. today in the county administrator's office to review some final issues with the budget and levy.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750