Wright County Board members predict belt-tightening for 2009

February 11, 2008

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

It may be difficult to get any kind of budget increase past the Wright County Board during the next budget cycle.

During Tuesday’s board meeting, Commissioner Dick Mattson made reference to the number of foreclosures in the county in the past year, and said the county’s unemployment rate in December is the highest it has been in a few years.

Mattson asked the board to schedule a budget committee of the whole as soon as possible to discuss the situation and to let county departments know what it expects for the next budget session.

He indicated that he was not happy with the last county budget, and mentioned measures, including a hiring freeze, that the board could take to reduce costs.

“We are not going to burden the taxpayers with another year like last year if I have anything to say about it,” Mattson said.

“Wants and needs are two different things,” he added.

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke indicated that he would not be opposed to tightening the budget.

“There were a few things that I wanted to chop out of the last budget that ended up getting approved. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings (if the process is tightened),” Sawatzke commented.

The board indicated support for setting a budget committee meeting.

County Coordinator Dick Norman suggested talking to Auditor/Treasurer Bob Hiivala to find out when he will have year-end reports for 2007 ready before scheduling the meeting, so the board would have the opportunity to see final numbers for last year prior to the meeting.

Sawatzke said that it might make sense to combine the budget meeting with a Tuesday, Feb. 26 committee of the whole meeting, approved earlier. The Feb. 26 meeting was scheduled to consider a request from the sheriff’s office for additional staff to provide security at the courthouse.

Norman said if the two topics are combined, the board will probably need to schedule a larger block of time for the meeting.

Commissioner Karla Heeter said even though both issues involved future budget expenditures, the sheriff staffing issue should be considered separately.

“I’d be interested in knowing if there is a single county in Minnesota that requires you to walk through a metal detector to walk into a government center,” Sawatzke said.

“We can run the most expensive operation in the state, but I don’t think it is practical for our taxpayers,” he added.

Sawatzke said there is a difference between using security staff and metal detectors at the main doors and doing this for the courts, which the county has done for years. He said he would like to see a survey indicating which counties have security checkpoints at their government centers.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• approved the use of a $3,520,300 advance from the county state aid construction fund for two projects scheduled to be completed during the 2008 construction season. One is the Highway 17 project in Delano, and the other is the Highway 19 project in St. Michael.

• authorized signatures on a $10,000 federal boat and water supplemental safety grant. The grant is administered by the DNR, and allows the sheriff’s office to schedule additional shifts on weekends, evenings, and holidays during the summer boating season.

• approved a purchase agreement for 87 acres of vacant land along the east side of Pelican Lake. The DNR asked the county to bid for the property at a Jan. 29 auction. The county was the successful bidder for a total price of $1,131,000.

The closing date was set 180 days out, and Deputy County Attorney Brian Asleson said it is possible that the county could assign its rights over to the DNR before closing, and the property could close without any county funds involved. The county has handled similar transactions for the DNR, because the DNR was not able to react in time to bid for the property at the auction.

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