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2011 Kandiyohi Co. budget OK'd but contract talks in limbo

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners approved a $58.5 million budget and a 2.68 levy increase Thursday, but commissioners were warned negotiations with half of the county's unions remain at a standstill and that the state's deficit could lead to additional belt-tightening next year.

Since 2008 the county has lost $1.9 million in state program aid, said County Ad-ministrator Larry Kleindl.

"It doesn't look good for us in 2011 as well," he said.

Because the county cannot increase taxes now that the 2011 levy has been certified, the only way to deal with an-other cut to state aid is to cut local services or programs.

Cutting health and human services programs is a frequent target of state lawmakers who also promote reducing costs by redesigning co-unty governments and est-ablishing service delivery au-thorities to replace county fa-mily services departments.

During a discussion with Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft, the commissioners said decisions on redesigning government will mean some people will no longer receive services.

Kieft said area counties are working on proposals for a regional redesign to remove "artificial county boundaries" to provide state-funded services.

But he said the Minnesota Association of County Social Service Administrators is taking the position that it should be legislators, and not county boards, that decide which programs will be eliminated and which people will no longer receive services.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen agreed, saying counties can inform legislators about the consequences of the cuts but it should be up to legislators to make the final decisions that will affect people. Allowing counties to choose will result in a "flawed redesign system," he said.

Kieft said the county is able to save long-term money by investing in prevention programs that target children with special needs, like mental health issues.

He said using good foster care that costs about $70 a day has prevented sending some high-needs children to residential care that can cost several hundred dollars a day.

But with more financial challenges facing state and local entities, even good programs may have to be sacrificed.

Kieft said the new catch phrase is that government will have to "do much less with less."

To help keep the budget in line, the commissioners are asking employees to accept a hard salary freeze for 2011 that includes no cost-of-living increase and no step advancements.

"Steps" in a salary schedule are typically for seniority and/or educational advancements.

Benefits are excluded from the freeze. Kleindl said the county will increase employer contribution in health insurance under the proposed contract.

The county is also offering employees an extra personal day -- for one year -- to offset the three unpaid days employees were required to take during the last two years.

Negotiations have been under way since June, and so far three employee groups represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes family services, public health and public works departments, have agreed to the proposal.

But Kleindl said no headway has been made with the Law Enforcement Labor Services union that represents the county's dispatchers, corrections officers and deputies.

"We haven't made any progress," said Kleindl, clearly frustrated.

"It's not a secret we're in tough economic times," he said. "We haven't been shy about putting the cards on the table."

"We just don't have the money," said Chairman Richard Falk.

If an agreement isn't reached by Dec. 31, the current contract will continue for the law enforcement employees.

In other action:

- The commissioners approved a joint powers agreement that will allow McLeod County to join the PACT 4 Families Collaborative. It is a family services and children's mental health collaborative that has included Kandiyohi, Meeker, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties and the Upper Sioux Community.

- A two-year contract was approved to continue to provide dispatch and 911 calls for Big Stone County. There is no fee increase for 2011 but a 3 percent increase will go into effect in 2012.

- The commissioners approved the purchase of 20 acres of land on Norway Lake by the state Department of Natural Resources fisheries section. The land will be used as an aquatic management area.

- Permission was given for participants in the 2011 New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run to use County Park 4 and the county parking lot on Aug. 14 for a day-long event.

- A contract was approved to allow Kandiyohi County to purchase the services of a sanitarian employed by the Redwood/Renville Community Health Board for one day a week at a maximum cost of $12,000 a year. The employee will replace an independent contractor that provided occasional services in Kandiyohi County to supplement its full-time sanitarian.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750