County to cut up to 15 jobsState funding cuts, poor economy contributors
By: Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin
Washington County officials delivered an early snapshot of the 2010 budget last week, telling the five county commissioners that up to 15 full-time jobs will be cut, service levels to residents will continue to fall and the county will have to dip into its savings to balance next year’s budget.
Uncertain state funding levels and a struggling economy are major contributors to the budgeting challenges the county is facing as it looks ahead to 2010, deputy administrator Molly O’Rourke told commissioners at a workshop that began Washington County’s budgeting process.
Earlier this year, commissioners slashed $3.1 million from the county’s budget — including 21 full-time equivalent positions — in response to cuts in county program aid from the state.
Now, with another drop in state aid to Washington County imminent under Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment plan, more staff cuts are necessary, O’Rourke told commissioners during the briefing.
At this preliminary stage, the number of layoffs needed isn’t finalized, she said, but officials believe the number of full-time equivalent positions eliminated will be between 10 to 15.
Washington County is already tied with neighboring Dakota County with a metro-low 4.7 full-time employees per 1,000 residents, according to statistics provided by the county.
“Across the board, you will see service levels decrease,” O’Rourke said.
Departments began their budget estimates in May. Last week’s budget workshop came later than is typical, officials said, due to the debate between state legislators and Pawlenty over the $2.7 billion state budget deficit that was resolved in part through the unallotment of millions of dollars in aid to cities and counties.
The County Board must set its proposed 2010 budget and preliminary property tax levy by Sept. 15. The budget and levy will be adopted at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.
O’Rourke said last week the preliminary budgets assume the need for an increase in the county’s property tax levy. Commissioners differed in the extent to which they’re willing to hike the tax rate.
Because of declining home values, actual taxes paid to the county by the average Washington County homeowner would drop under most of the alternatives presented. Options included levy increases of zero through 3 percent and those that include funding for Washington County’s Land and Water Legacy Program.
But, commissioners Gary Kriesel and Lisa Weik said, despite the drop most taxpayers would see they’d prefer to keep the tax levy rate increase to the bare minimum.
“The best thing we can do to stimulate the economy is to leave as many discretionary dollars” in the pockets of home and business owners, Kriesel said. He said he would like to see only a zero or 1 percent increase — far below the 3.87 percent state mandated levy limit imposed on Washington County.
Commissioner Dennis C. Hegberg, though, said in the face of staff and service cuts — and at a time when the county is facing an increased demand for safety net programs — a steeper 3 percent increase was needed.