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County begins budget process for 2015

Wadena County commissioners had their first discussion July 8 regarding the budget they must set for 2015. A preliminary budget and levy calculation must be completed and sent to the State of Minnesota by Sept. 15.

Commissioners were in general agreement that county department heads should aim for a zero-increase budget once again, as they have been asked to do for the last several years. Zero-increase is difficult to do, however, since the county agreed to three-year labor contracts with its bargaining units that call for a 2 percent wage increase each year. Wages make up about 80 percent of most departments' budgets, so a zero-increase total budget that contains a 2 percent wage increase means department heads have to slash the remainder of their budget items, such as equipment, maintenance contracts, supplies, necessary travel, etc.

Letters from County Coordinator Curt Kreklau and Auditor/Treasurer Judy Taves will go to each department head asking for compliance with the zero-increase target, and requesting draft budgets by Aug.13. On that date, the board will hold a special meeting to hear the budget requests for 2015 and learn any special needs that departments might have, such as additional staff to meet new state or federal mandates going into effect, or unexpected equipment replacement or repairs.

This year's budget preparation process will be the first for Kreklau, and the second for Taves. It is also the first for new Social Services Director Tanya Leskey. The three will help one another and contact more seasoned department heads with questions they have about the county's budget process.

Also at the July 8 meeting, Kreklau and Taves brought several new or updated policy drafts before the board for consideration and voting. However, none of the draft policies had been evaluated by County Attorney Kyra Ladd. Board Chair Bill Stearns told Kreklau and Taves to refer all new or revised policies to Ladd before bringing them to the board for discussion. The draft county tax abatement policy, the draft data protection practices policy, and the draft personal electronic device use policy will go to Ladd now and come back to the board after she has reviewed them.

After several months of work, Kreklau and Commissioner Jim Hofer told the board that the process of recruiting website designers to work on the county website had been completed, and two finalists selected. Kreklau asked the board to allow him to schedule presentations from the two finalist vendors.

In a surprise move, several commissioners raised objections to hiring a web designer at all. Instead, they suggested, the new IT systems analyst, when hired, might have the skills to do web design, and he or she could revise and update the county website.

During the Highway Department's turn before the board, County Engineer Ryan Odden recommended that the two bids received for culvert replacement be rejected, and a new bid process for the work be started. The bids were over 79 percent and 66 percent higher than the engineer's estimates for the two projects. Odden told commissioners that all the road construction companies were busy with other work, and that was the reason why there were only two bids, and those bids were unacceptable. He requested permission to rebid the project with a longer timeframe, allowing the companies to schedule the work when they could get to it, sometime within the next 12 months. The board voted to reject the bids and rebid the project in accordance with Odden's recommendations.

In other business, the board:

• Approved the hiring of two new Highway Department truck drivers to replace two who retired in May 2014.

• Approved a Conditional Use Permit for Edward Abbott to operate an in-home daycare center in Sec. 3 of Red Eye Township.

• Approved rezoning of a 20-acre parcel on U.S. 71 in Sec. 27 of Red Eye Township, from General Ag to Business-1, so that a buyer can build a retail store on what is now residential property.

• Approved 10 amendments to the county's Zoning Ordinance, largely to add definitions.

• Accepted the resignation of Tanya Malone from the Public Health Department, effective Aug. 22, and approved recruitment of a replacement for her.

• Approved two resolutions necessary to the process of selling tax forfeited land at the Sept. 6 scheduled sale.