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Wadena commissioners begin 2015 budget work

It's budget time again. Wadena commissioners kicked off the 2015 budget development season on Aug. 13 with a long meeting spent hearing presentation by 16 department heads or cost centers, including the five fund managers who oversee the county's annual $20 million in revenue and expenses.

In July, the board directed its managers to prepare preliminary 2015 budget requests with zero increases over 2014 budgets whenever possible.

Each department head who asked for additional funding for 2015 presented reasons and documentation for the request.

The county and its bargaining units negotiated three-year labor agreements for the years 2013-2015 that include salary increases of 2 percent per year. Department heads had to include these salary increases within their 2015 budgets, thus necessitating cuts to other expenses in order to reach a zero increase figure.

When all was said and done, department heads requested about $650,000 more for 2015 than they had for 2014. All that money could be accounted for by required pay and benefit increases, which total $754,791, according to preliminary figures calculated by the Auditor/Treasurer staff. A few departments were able to keep their projected 2015 expenses the same, or even lower, than 2014 expenses. Others had equipment or personnel needs that had to be addressed. Here are some examples:

• The Parks Department has a 20-year-old pickup truck that is on its last legs. Replacing the truck with another used truck is estimated to cost between $9,000 and $15,000.

• The County Attorney needs to hire an additional Assistant County Attorney to handle Social Services cases, including child protection, child support, and welfare fraud. Most of the cost of the additional attorney is expected to be covered by the money recovered for the county through the attorney's work.

• Kitchigami Regional Library requested a $7,900 increase to provide services.

• The county's voting machines are getting old, and the Auditor/Treasurer's office requested establishment of a reserve fund of $25,000 to prepare to replace the expensive machines when they break down.

• The Soil and Water Conservation District reminded the board that the county has not been paying its full amount of "matching funds" required by grants that the SWCD has received. Therefore, the SWCD requested an additional $23,000 for 2015 to complete the required "match".

• The Solid Waste Department will have a surplus of about $78,000, which will be replaced in a reserve fund to prepare for equipment replacement.

• The County Recorder is losing $17,000 in state funding because of changes in regulations. She requested an additional $20,000 from the county.

• The Road and Bridge fund presented a 2015 budget with a zero increase.

• Budget discussions will continue until mid-September, when the county must set a preliminary 2014 pay 2015 levy. The final budget will be approved in December, along with the final levy amount.