County gathers public input on cuts

Published 7:28 am Thursday, July 23, 2009

With 2009 budget revisions expected by early August, the Mower County Board on Wednesday gathered public input on proposed cuts.

The county is facing a more than $500,000 shortfall as a result of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s June unallotments, leaving county officials to figure out how to make up the difference.

The board has already proposed more than $650,000 in temporary and permanent cuts. Some of the larger temporary adjustments include a $75,000 reduction to the 2009 fuel budget and nearly $80,000 in savings from a new health insurance policy for retirees.

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On the permanent side, the board has proposed not filling a social worker position and cutting two highway department positions — a savings of more than $100,000 in 2009 and slightly more in 2010. The county has also proposed cuts to services such as Children in need of Protective Services (CHIPS) petitions and the Seibel Visitation Center.

County coordinator Craig Oscarson said even after dealing with the unallotments, state funding may not return to where it was.

“(We’ve been told) this is a permanent cut,” he said. “Don’t expect this money back.”

Oscarson said he hoped the board wouldn’t have to raise taxes too much to deal with the budget crunch.

Sandy Forstner, executive director of the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce, also urged the board to keep taxes low.

“The fact of the matter is the tax burden in Mower County has gone up drastically in recent years,” he said. “We’ve already asked tax payers to do enough.”

Dan Vermilyea, a rural Austin resident who has been challenging the new jail and justice center, also called for low taxes.

“I don’t want my taxes raised,” he said.

In addition to calls for low taxes, a number of people spoke in defense of areas that could be cut.

Mower County Judge Donald Rysavy said the county should go slow when considering to cut county funding to CHIPS. The proposed cut for 2009 is $33,700.

He said beyond there being a case pending in Rice County involving legal services that could impact the future of CHIPS, cutting funding for the program now would negatively impact families.

“What I care about is the kids in the system,” he said.

Paul Worlein, owner of Worlein Funeral Home in Austin, said if the county began using cremation only for county-supported burials — as the board has proposed — people should still have the option of traditional burials if they pay the difference.

Switching to cremation only would save $32,500 in 2009 and would be a permanent adjustment. Oscarson said the board is mulling over whether to allow people to pay more for a traditional burial if the county makes the switch.

He said he personally likes the idea and doesn’t see it being more costly for the county.

Final budget decisions are expected to be made at 3 p.m. during the Aug. 4 county board meeting.