County continues to consider budget cuts

If all the 2014 budget requests department heads submitted to the county board this summer were granted and the fund balance was not touched, the county tax levy could increase by 11 percent next year.  That’s not going to happen, however.  The board decided to cap any potential levy increase at 2.9 percent.  On September 24, 2013, the board tried to whittle the budget down further to minimize dipping into the fund balance and increasing the levy.

One tool the board used was suggestions made by department heads when they were asked how they would reduce expenses by 5 percent if they were forced to do so.  The board spent well over three hours going through specific cuts that could be made department by department, but they didn’t make it all the way through all the departments and decided to pick up the task at another budget work session.  

The board discussed—but rejected—eliminating the telephone booth at the end of the Gunflint Trail or postponing equipment purchases for the county highway department,

They accepted a recommendation from Information Technology Director Danna MacKenzie who suggested a couple of different expense-cutting options including delaying equipment purchases.  The board went with one of the suggestions, which will save $36,721.

The preliminary budget called for using $513,241 from the fund balance.  Commissioner Bruce Martinson said he would like to use half that amount and keep the levy increase to half of 2.9 percent.  Commissioner Garry Gamble said he wanted to eliminate any use of the fund balance and have no levy increase.

“We have a very, very healthy fund balance,” said Commissioner Sue Hakes.  She said it’s about 50 percent of the county’s annual expenses.  She recommended reducing the levy increase first and then trying to reduce use of the fund balance.

“It’s the same thing whether I take money out of my piggy bank or my pocket,” Commissioner Gamble said.

The board agreed to continue discussion of possible budget cuts at their next meeting on Tuesday, October 8.