The Fillmore County Board of Commissioners began work on creating the 2014 budget in the first of several August board meetings that will be dedicated to the task.

Commissioner Tom Kaase joined the meeting via telephone.

The board heard from six county departments that presented a proposed 2014 budget, including facilities maintenance, sanitation, zoning, feedlot, assessor and auditor/treasurer. The remaining county offices will present their proposed budgets during each Tuesday morning meeting in August.

Terry Schultz went through the facilities management budget where he mentioned gross salaries were the biggest item. The department went up to six full-time employees to cover the highway department and jail buildings. He said his department would like to purchase a new carpet cleaner this year. The commissioners decreased the natural gas budget from $25,000 to $20,000 with a sales tax savings adjustment.

"You can't cut anymore," joked Jon Martin from sanitation about the Resource Recovery Center budget. Martin said he was optimistic that tipping fees would cause revenue to go up by $25,000. He also said the department didn't expect any machinery or equipment rental costs. The board suggested the department take a $1,700 cut in heating and cooling costs. Commissioner Chair Randy Dahl encouraged Martin to keep up his "scrounging" habits.

County Zoning Officer Chris Graves told the board building permits were only at 34 percent of what they were last year. "Other than that, there is not a lot of fat to cut," said Graves, noting the department was trying to limit the number of conditional use permits coming through the office. The board said there would be cuts in signage funds.

County Feedlot Officer Michael Frauenkron said the board could cancel out a $6,335 item for automobile mileage. He mentioned costs were going up for office supplies and postage because of more mailings.

Through discussion with county assessor Cindy Blagsvedt, it was determined that the county would budget for a new county car for the assessors' office. Blagsvedt otherwise reported that gross salaries, fees and charges had gone up among other expenses.

Auditor/treasurer Shirl Boelter went through budgets for general government, auditor/treasurer, accounting services, data processing, elections, community health, Memorial Day services, and CIP 2010 Debt Service. The biggest expense in the auditor/treasurer budget was envelopes. Boelter said the county was down to $10,000 in funds from the Help America Vote Act in 2002.

In a discussion relating to the budget, the commissioners considered a couple of proposed hires and one expanded status within Social Services. Human Services manager Gail Bunge and Social Services supervisor Wendy Ebner explained to the commissioners the necessity of adding a case aide position to the department.

"When staff provide feedback they are saying, 'We need help,'" Bunge explained. She also said workers come in and ask what their priorities are because there is no way they can do everything. Almost everything they aren't able to accomplish is still required by the state in performance standards.

"We can't have a person coming in saying there are only going to get this done even though the other stuff is necessary as well," said Dahl. "I don't think that is an acceptable way to staff our office."

County coordinator Karen Brown said the county would get hit by fines if they didn't accomplish their work.

The full-time case aide would assist social workers and free them up to focus on work only they are qualified for. Bunge said the position would also focus on applying for, acquiring and managing revenue opportunities.

Commissioner Chuck Amunrud asked why Social Services hasn't been able to keep up. Bunge and Ebner both said almost all the programs they deal with have changed and the amount of documentation has increased. They also said cultural changes in families and social issues has greatly impacted what they do and how much they can handle.

After hearing the case aide position would be expected to pay for itself, Amunrud said it would be important for the county to track that progress. "I don't want to fall behind," he stated. Adding the position was approved.

During the discussion surrounding moving a social worker's half-time status to full-time, Commissioner Duane Bakke expressed concerns about how the new Social Services hires would fit into the 2014 budget.

"Approving this is tough in the middle of budgeting," he said. "The department needs to recognize that we are going to be asking for something back."

Bunge said she respected Bakke's comments and concerns. She explained how the worker focuses on permanency planning for children in home placements. The person was not able to handle the volume and complexity of casework at half-time. Brown mentioned the worker had moved to half-time in order to help out the county. The board approved the move to full-time status.

The board also approved an additional social worker who would take the place of the other worker assigned to handle MnCHOICES casework. Funding for the new position would come from a federal and state 50/50 cost share program through the Department of Human Services. Bunge said it would take two months to train the person stepping into the MnCHOICES role prior to the disability/elderly-focused initiative's roll-out in 2014.