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Partnerships key to trimming government expenses and taxpayer savings

Sue Torison, appraiser for the city of Willmar, works Tuesday in her office in downtown Willmar. The county is looking to combine its assessors office with the city office. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Creating new partnerships with government and non-government entities is proving to be a key component for reducing the burden on taxpayers.

At their meeting Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners agreed to continue talks with the city of Willmar for merging the separate assessors departments under the county umbrella.

They also urged the director of the county's Housing and Redevelopment Authority to keep talking with the city's HRA director about merging those two entities.

And in another step that will save the county as much as $150,000, the commissioners agreed Tuesday to contract with Woodland Centers and Project Turnabout for chemical assessments -- a move that will mean the lay-off off two county employees.

The steps are part of a concerted effort to reduce expenses by making local government more efficient, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

"We really will streamline government," he said, praising the Commissioners for giving staff that directive in 2009. He said more partnerships within county departments and between Willmar, as well as other entities and communities, will be sought in efforts to reduce duplicated government expenses and taxes.

Some of those changes are already being taken.

Family Services Director Jay Kieft said his department worked with Deb West from the Corrections Department to come up with the plan to contract for services for chemical use assessments, which is estimated to save $100,000 to $150,000 between the two departments.

Currently county staff does those assessments. Hiring Woodland Centers and Project Turnabout will cost $125 per assessment. It's anticipated the more pre-screening will reduce the number of full assessments that will be conducted, said Kieft.

"It'll be a good move for the county financially," said West.

The change will force the departments to change familiar habits and won't be entirely painless. Two county employees will be laid off in the process, but Kieft said they were assisted in finding jobs with the new partners.

If final action is taken to combine the county and city assessors' offices, the transition would take place over a seven- to eight-year period beginning July 1 of 2011.

Currently, the city and county each have four employees working in their assessor's office, said Kleindl.

Under the proposal the city would turn over its entire assessor's budget to the county the first year. The fee would be reduced every year until the entire cost is carried by the county.

"Over time there'll be great savings to the taxpayers," said Kleindl, adding that duplication of administrative and support staff would be eliminated. The biggest challenge may be getting the different computer systems to communicate with each other and handling assessments for commercial properties.

"I believe this is a good thing," said Kleindl. A similar process took place when the county and city merged law enforcement dispatch services.

Jill Bengtson, county HRA director told the Commissioners she has been meeting on a regular basis with Dorothy Gaffaney, executive director of the Willmar HRA to discuss cooperative efforts. She said the boards from both entities will hold a joint meeting Sept. 30 where the issue will be discussed.

In other action:

- Commissioners approved a resolution that will allow county employees to "buy back" salary credits under PERA for unpaid furlough days in order to protect retirement plans. The employee will pay the employer and employee contribution. Legislation approved this year allows the buy-back to take place because so many government entities used unpaid furloughs to help reduce budgets.

- The board approved a bid of $448,900 from Eagle Construction of Little Falls for the construction of a biosolids storage facility for the Green Lake Sanitary Sewer and Water District.

- The Commissioners will meet with Lake Andrew Township officials at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 to discuss road turn-back issues.

- An assessment hearing for the Diamond Lake sewer project was set for 6 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Atwater Community Center.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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