State cutbacks begin to affect Carlton County in real timeAt Tuesday’s regular session of the Carlton County Board, Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake requested permission to refill a patrol deputy position vacated through a staff resignation. Though the request was ultimately approved on a vote of 4-1 (with Commissioner Dick Brenner casting the dissenting vote), it generated lengthy debate over what would have been considered a fairly routine matter in the not-too-distant past.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County administrators are starting to feel the sting of the state’s recent budget cutbacks in a very real way.
At Tuesday’s regular session of the Carlton County Board, Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake requested permission to refill a patrol deputy position vacated through a staff resignation. Though the request was ultimately approved on a vote of 4-1 (with Commissioner Dick Brenner casting the dissenting vote), it generated lengthy debate over what would have been considered a fairly routine matter in the not-too-distant past.
The county is currently faced with paring its 2010 budget by more than $400,000. In an effort to do what Finance Chair Mike Stafford referred to as “doing less with less,” the board earlier determined that no job vacancies can be filled without the express approval of the board.
Lake asked commissioners to give special consideration, however, to refilling the open position in her department. If further budget cuts should become necessary at a later date, she said, she is willing to take responsibility for prioritizing them. She further acknowledged the possibility of having to lay off the new employee if that should become necessary further on down the line.
Some commissioners nonetheless questioned the wisdom of filling the open position at all, which Lake said pays some $75,000-$80,000 in starting wages and benefits.
“Human Services has already taken a real hit by not rehiring 10 positions in their department,” stated Commissioner Ted Pihlman.
“I could be having this very same discussion with you at some point in the not-too-distant future,” added County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert, whose office is currently down by one employee.
Further, Board Chair Marv Bodie pointed out there are still budget cuts to be made for the current year, and just how much won’t be known until the current legislative session is over.
Commissioner Tom Proulx emphasized the importance of filling the deputy position, however.
“I can’t see balancing the budget on the backs of public safety,” he commented. “There are other places that can be cut.”
Lake went on to explain that if the on-road deputy position is not filled, she will have to transition a current deputy into that role – one who is currently responsible for coordinating preventive programs such as D.A.R.E. and other school courses, co-chairing the Suicide Prevention Task Force, interviewing children involved in sexual assault cases, acting as staff training coordinator, and assisting the human services department in child protection matters.
“If that position has to be eliminated in order to fill the on-road position,” said Lake, “our department will have to move toward a more reactive mode.”
“It’s hard to put a dollar value on preventive services,” conceded Commissioner Gordon Aanerud. “That’s probably the best investment we could make.”
Proulx offered a motion to approve filling the position, which was approved.
On another personnel issue, Assistant County Attorney Dennis Genereau informed commissioners that the county attorney’s office is prepared to eliminate a part-time attorney position. He explained the position was added two years ago with the understanding that some $50,000 of the job expense would be deferred by additional prosecutorial work generated through the human services department.
Genereau said only about half that amount was realized, however, so the position was cut to part time. Since revenues have continued to decline, he said supporting the position no longer seems feasible. The board concurred with the decision.
With an eye toward making final budget cuts for the balance of 2010, Stafford suggested the board hold off until the legislative session is slated to end in mid-May in order to more accurately target the final figures necessary.