Carlton County has not furloughed or laid off employees as they adapted to changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

County officials recommended at the Tuesday, May 12 meeting that the Carlton County Board of Commissioners be cautious of the uncertain budget issues due to the pandemic and implement a hiring freeze.

Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau recommended a limited hiring freeze. Any hires made would be on a case-by-case basis and would require the board's approval. Employee payroll for the month of March was $1.5 million.

Genereau said he couldn't provide the board with an estimate on the county's budget situation because it depends on many factors, including how much health care costs change, what happens with county revenue because of the pandemic and what state resources are available after the pandemic ends.

"There are too many variables to know what the budget will look like right now ... The hiring freeze is one thing we can control," he said.

Carlton County Auditor/Treasurer Kathy Kortuem said local sales tax was down $20,000 or 13.5% in March. She said she estimates April to be down about $13,000 or 9.6% from last year. She noted that it is common for amounts to vary from year to year.

District 3 commissioner Tom Proulx said if there was going to be a hiring freeze, it should include everyone.

Dave Lee, director of Public Health and Human Services, said his department always scrutinizes their current staff for a good fit before filling a position. He said he has two positions open that he has put off filling due to budget concerns.

Lee said another position just opened in his department that needs to be filled. He said his department looked to fill the entry-level position internally but there was no interest.

“Can we get by? Yes,” Lee said. “Will it be a burden? Yes. We’re feeling a lot of pressure.”

JinYeene Neumann, county engineer, said she would seek board approval fill an assistant engineer position.

Genereau said he would talk to department heads to see how they can cover the open positions without hiring new people for the near future.

“We need to be good stewards with taxpayers money,” said Gary Peterson, District 5 commissioner.

The commissioners asked Genereau to provide them with more information about how the freeze would work. They voted to continue the discussion at the May 26 meeting.