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Wadena County Commissioners hear numerous budget requests

In a four-hour special July 16 board meeting, Wadena County Commissioners listened carefully as 13 department heads presented their 2013 budget requests.        

The board must set the maximum property tax levy amount by Sept. 17. After that date, the levy amount can be reduced, but not increased, even if conditions suddenly change. The new 2013 budget will take effect Jan. 1.

The budget process for 2013 shows that the county's bargaining unit contracts are up for renewal. The existing contracts end Dec. 31.  Negotiations are about to begin for new two-year or three-year contracts that would start

Jan. 1.  

Commissioners appointed attorney Tom Fitzpatrick to be the lead negotiator for the county. They also seemed pleased almost all the department heads presented department budgets with a zero increase in expenses. The budgets did not include wages and benefits because these items have to be negotiated as part of the contracts with the bargaining units.

One department head was unable to attend the budget meeting, but will present his budget at the July 26 commissioners' meeting.  

Some department heads took the opportunity to engage commissioners in discussions about long-term plans for their departments and ask commissioners to think about the policies the board would like to adopt for spending.

County Engineer Ryan Odden presented a set of charts and graphs that showed five-year trends in Highway Department revenues and expenses. He also provided the board with an equipment inventory, showing the age, original cost, trade-in value and budgeted replacement value for 48 pieces of equipment operated by the Highway Department. In addition, Odden distributed a list of every gravel road in the county, including the length, age and cost of the gravel.  

Highway Department plans for construction and maintenance are already set for next year, but there is some flexibility for projects to be done in 2014.

Also during the meeting, Management Information Systems (MIS) Director Kevin Stensrude included four major projects in his 2013 budget request that would cost $49,000 to complete.

Additionally, Sheriff Mike Carr's budget had an overall decrease of 1 percent in expenses, including the purchase of two new squad cars. The county's squad cars are replaced every four years.  Carr said he had enough money left in his budget for 2012 that he could purchase one of the cars this year. Carr added that he will wait until October to order the new squad car.