Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Dan Reed
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

County board discusses 2014 budget


County growth, an improving economy, and evolving county governmental needs weigh in the balance as Carlton County commissioners wrestle with adoption of the 2014 Operating Budget. "Requests from each department would need a budget increase of 6 to 7 percent," Dick Brenner, County commissioner from Cloquet, commented. "Let's see if we can work through these proposals and try for a budget increase of 2 to 3 percent."

County Auditor Paul Gassert requested, "We need direction from the board in a number of areas. There are requests for new employees, remodeling, creation of an expanded human resources department, and more. These jobs are being added or turned to full time employees while some of the traditional county department jobs have been cut or not filled after retirements while the work load increases. Technology can replace only so much of the workload and staff time. The state auditors have told us on numerous occasions that some of the required paperwork is falling through the cracks with the present reduced staffing."

During the ranging discussion and although no decision had yet been finalized, there appeared to be support on the board for hiring a human resources director and an additional jailer. The county attorney said he would not be requesting additional staff for his office. Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake hoped that a staff person in the sheriff's department that handles the county's gun permitting work would be extended from .7 time to full time.

Preliminary budget proposals have $217,000 budgeted for county board expenses. This includes board salaries, meeting per diem payments, memberships, and mileage.

Director Dave Lee of Health and Human Services noted that his department would reduce its funding proposal by $200,000 in a one time only reduction.

Extended discussion centered around hiring an additional staff person through the Family Services Collaborative, a joint County and school district program, for proposed work in the Moose Lake School District. An outlay of $19,700 would be matched by outside funding for the position. No decision was made at this time.

The Finance Committee will be meeting at least once before the next county board meeting to seek some resolution.

Heather Cunningham, Zoning and Waste Management, reported to the board on the results of a customer service survey conducted by her office. 385 surveys were completed by residents that use the Transfer Station services. "I was pleasantly surprised that so many did complete a survey," she observed.

The largest group responding used the Transfer Station two to six times a year. Sixty-six percent of material brought to the facility was household waste; 21 percent was construction debris; one to three garbage cans or bags coming in a pickup is most common; 70 percent of Transfer Station clients pay with cash; 43 percent are opposed to stopping cash payments during delivery.

Cunningham recommended:

1. Posting the rate schedule in the window clearly readable.

2. Electronic display of proposed fee for each delivery person.

3. Introducing the collection of food waste — a proposal is still in the works.

4. Fluorescent bulb recycling year round.

5. Installing an awning over the cashier window area.

6. Approval of a user-friendly rate schedule to be proposed.

7. Continuation of cash payments for deliveries — a new checks and balances system with periodic spot checks is being considered.

No board action was taken. A proposal will be presented soon.

Discussions have been held between the county board and the non-union employees (outside of salaried department heads) that have had a concern that their salaries have not kept up with union-negotiated contracts and wages of similar jobs throughout the region. County Coordinator Dennis Genereau reflected, "We are not able to hire or continue to employ people in these particular positions. This cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 1.75 percent for 2013 and 2.25 percent for the 2014 contract period is long overdue. This will buy time for the county board to study each job in county employ and rate it for comparable worth. A new human resources director will help facilitate this process." County assessors, for example, are covered under this agreement.


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