Deficit at $3.5 million as budget work begins

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003

County department heads brought their wish lists to the Freeborn County Commissioners Wednesday, forming a budget with a $3.5 million deficit.

Department heads were told not to present budgets with increased spending, and ones that answer the question &uot;If you funded everything, what is it going to cost?&uot; said County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen. Most departments were under what they had spent this year.

At this preliminary part of the budget process, many grants have still not been approved that will whittle away at the deficit.

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The deficit is partially a result of that and funding cuts from the state and federal governments. County officials said some of the budget must be cut because state laws have restricted how much counties can levy in taxes. But the county may end up collecting more money through fees.

The meeting is the first step in a long budget process, but possible cuts were not the main topic of conversation.

The largest deficit is the human services budget, which is more than a million dollars, said Human Services Director Darryl Meyer. Some of that can be paid for by a $250,000 tax levy, and a $600,000 dip into human-services reserves. But $350,000 will have to be cut, or fees may increase to individuals using certain programs like its domestic abuse program. Insurance program participants may also have to pay more.

Public Health Nurse Lois Ahern said the county must decide whether to continue with its home-care program, which keeps many residents out of nursing homes. With seven open positions in that department, she said she is not taking any new clients. She said removing the home-care program would eliminate 16 positions.

Her nurses will also have to spend more time at the larger jail, and Ahern asked that the money come out of the sheriff’s budget.

The highway department has a request of more than $480,000, which Director Sue Miller said will have to be funded to continue maintenance at its current level and continue road improvements.

Another large expense will be the sheriff’s budget; the department will hire 10 new jailers to accomodate the new jail.

And leases will expire with the department’s cars and other county vehicles. New leases won’t include gas and oil changes as they do now.

Commissioner Dan Springborg said the cuts they will have to make will be especially difficult since the county budget is lean from cuts in past years.

&uot;Everything we cut is going to affect people in this community as far as services.&uot;

He and other commissioners said the next step is working with department heads to decide appropriate cuts.

(Contact Tim Sturrock at or 379-3438.)