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Pierce County departments react to budget cuts

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Some Pierce County departments will look a lot different when the calendar turns Jan. 1, 2011.

At its June meeting, the County Board ordered departments to reduce their 2011 budgets by 3.4%.

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That figure resulted from reducing the 3% increase on the operating levy the state will allow by $190,000, Finance Director Julie Brickner told the board then.

It would generate $240,000 in additional property taxes, she continued, but required the reduction.

The board approved the 2011 tax levy budget Tuesday morning. The following is a sampling of how some departments will look starting the next year.

Highway

Director Chad Johnson explained the department won't see any drastic changes in the upcoming year.

"If we happen to go over budget in some areas, we will cut from others," he said.

Johnson emphasized winter maintenance hasn't and won't be affected.

"We are not going to quit plowing if we are over budget," he concluded.

There will be fewer construction and pavement projects, along with scaling back on miles painted, he said.

In terms of personnel, an office position won't be refilled at this time.

Land Conservation

One of the biggest departments to be affected by the cuts is land conservation. Director Rod Webb explained a position will be reduced from 40 to 35 hours per week.

Also cut is the summer intern, a program the department has used off-and-on the last 15 years. Webb said the intern, typically a local college student, worked 400 hours during summer.

"It's going to be a noticeable impact to the public," Webb said about the cuts.

Also eliminated was funding for the Conservation Congress.

"It was a difficult reduction to make," Webb said. "But, if it's not required by state statute or county ordinance, we're not doing it anymore."

Register of Deeds

Document Clerk JoAnn Manor retired in June and, as of right now, her position hasn't been refilled, explained Register of Deeds Vicki Nelson. Nelson said there is money in the budget for her position, but is unsure if it will be filled. Julie Hines and Kate Hanson, the two remaining employees in the department, were bumped up to 40 hours until the end of the year and, at that point, Nelson said, will see if it continues.

Register in Probate

Dee Novak, Register in Probate, explained no personnel cuts were made in her department. The primary cut came out of the "legal" line item, which Novak explained is not necessarily controllable.

"It is case driven. Statutes require we have attorneys or guardian ad litems for certain cases. If we go over budget, money will have to be transferred from somewhere to cover the actual cost," she said.

Looking for reductions in her department was difficult, she continued, "It would take legislative changes to raise revenues.

"It's hard to cut bare bones, which we are in the courts," she said.

Sheriff

The biggest change will come in personnel, as a full-time employee will be reduced to half-time. Cuts were also made by employees switching insurance. Sheriff Nancy Hove also said previously, the lists for 2011 are more needs than wants.

UW-Extension

Co-department Head Frank Ginther said the biggest changes will come in personnel. The Community Natural Resource and Economic Development agent position, which has been vacant since January, will remain unfilled. He also added that secretary hours will be reduced from three days to two days a week.

Public Health

Public Health Director Sue Galoff explained, besides the 3.4% mandate, the Finance and Personnel Committee also ordered her to cut an additional $25,000 from the Home Care budget.

"We are past the bare bones," she said. "We've made so many cuts over the years the only thing left is personnel."

Two personnel positions will remain unfilled -- assistant director, which has remained vacant since April 2009, and a home health aide. Galoff said the aide resigned in August and they will refill the position during demand.

"We are going to continue to provide the best services we can to the public," she said.

Galoff said reserve funds will help in the cuts, but cautioned 2012 "...will be a very difficult budget for us."

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Jason Schulte
Jason Schulte has been with the Herald since 2006. He covers County government and anything else that happens in Pierce County on a daily basis.
(715) 273-4334
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