Wednesday, July 21, 2010

County plans $27.7 million budget

Proposal includes cost-of-living raise for employees


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

County departments grappled for pieces of Blaine County's $27.7 million pie this week as commissioners began the second week of budget hearings.

The county's projected expenses, totaling $27,776,970, include a proposed across-the-board cost-of-living raise of 3 percent. Though the recession has hit Blaine County hard, County Clerk JoLynn Drage said the raise is warranted.

"The cost of living has continued to go up," she said.

County employee salaries were frozen for fiscal year 2010, and Drage said the cost of living over the past two years has gone up more than 4 percent.

However, Commission Chair Larry Schoen has stated he doesn't agree with the proposed universal cost-of-living raise, preferring a merit-based system instead. The problem, Drage said, is that the county doesn't have a solid evaluation system on which to base merit raises.

County expenses are up slightly from last year, which totaled just under $27 million. Drage said that revenues from all county enterprises are projected to be about $900,000 less than last year. This projected drop, Drage said, is due to a combination of corresponding drops in sales tax, building permit fees and other smaller decreases.

Highlights of the proposed expenditures include two proposed new positions, one in information technology (IT) and one in human resources.

The proposed IT position is for a systems administrator. A new administrator would cut the need for outside consulting on tech support issues, which could save the county money. The salary requested is just over $52,000, in the median salary range for someone of the required skills.

The human resources staff member would take over County Administrator Voss' responsibilities in employee relations, payroll and compensation, designed to bring organization and focus to areas in which Voss said the county is "weak."

Voss said he spends about half of his time on employee issues, when he could be focusing on a myriad of other county responsibilities.

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"Whenever I ask [Voss] to do something more, I feel like either he doesn't do something else, or he doesn't sleep," Schoen said. "Usually, I think it's the latter."

However, Voss said he would be willing to forego the new position in his department because county funds are limited and the IT position is higher-priority.

"You can only fund so much, and I'm a pretty patient person," Voss said. "If we need to just hunker down for a year, that's fine."

A new human resources staff member's salary would be expected to range from $45,000 to $55,000.

Blaine County is currently funding the regional recycling center through the Southern Idaho Solid Waste District's budget, but the fiscal year 2011 budgets the facility as a separate line item.

If the budget is approved as written, Blaine County will directly operate the recycling center at Ohio Gulch.

The request led to a policy discussion about the county's role in funding recycling that temporarily derailed Monday's hearing.

Commissioner Tom Bowman expressed concern about the county's readiness to take on the center.

"I fear we're embarking on a long journey without any navigation beyond this budget," he said, calling for a larger policy discussion.

Though Schoen agreed to at least one public hearing on the topic, he said he believes the county's new budgeting process allows for policy changes.

"The outcome-based budgeting process intrinsically will involve more policy discussions," he said, because departmental budgets will be based on intended results, which tend to be a matter of policy.

Budget hearings are expected to wrap up on Thursday, when Schoen said the commissioners will make preliminary decisions.

A preliminary budget is anticipated by July 28, though not required until Aug. 2. After the Blaine Manor levy vote on Aug. 3, county commissioners will adopt a final budget by Sept. 7, in preparation for the 2011 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

What is outcome-based budgeting?

The county is currently enforcing what they call "outcome-based budgeting," or OBB. OBB is a plan that aligns the results departments or organizations produce with the county's main priorities, including developing a balanced budget, preparing for unforeseen events and serving the needs of the county. Under the new plan, departments and organizations funded by the county must outline the proposed results of their upcoming projects and how those results match the county's priorities. The county then determines how much funding can be allocated. This is the first year the county has used this budgeting plan, which is still in the implementation stage. Next year, the plan will include standards for measuring how well OBB is working.




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