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Pierce County: Report aims for more efficient county

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Supervisor Rod Rommel might have said it best when describing county funding in today's economic climate.

"Gentlemen," Rommel said when addressing his fellow Pierce County Supervisors during Tuesday's meeting, "the county spends about $9 million for public health and human services, $6 million equally for law enforcement and highway, yet we only spend $39,000 on jobs?"

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Rommel said this as he was highlighting findings from the Program Committee, which he chaired. Its goal was to find county "areas where efficiencies can be created and how county services will be impacted by the Budget Repair Bill."

The committee was made up of Rommel, Board Chairman Paul Barkla, Vice-Chairman Jeff Holst, Finance Director Julie Brickner, Public Health Director Sue Galoff, Highway Commissioner Chad Johnson, Human Services Director Tammy Kincaid and Personnel Coordinator Sandy Langer.

Rommel's statement came when discussing funding for the Pierce County Economic Development Corporation (PCEDC). The county is the PCEDC's largest contributor at $39,000, which accounts for over half of its revenue.

"PCEDC does not have the critical mass in employees and revenues to fully promote the economic development of the county," the committee wrote. Therefore, it recommended either increasing, eliminate funding or regionalize the department with the understanding it should happen within the next year.

At least one city in the county has already thrown its support behind PCEDC getting increased or continued funding.

The Prescott City Council approved a resolution the night before funding for the PCEDC "at a sustainable level." Among the key points of the resolution was PCEDC's help in Bergquist Company's decision to expand in Prescott, which created 70 jobs.

Among the committee's other recommendations (listed in order of achievability):

n Designate an existing employee to be a grant-writing expert.

n Discontinue supporting the fair with the tax levy. The committee reported the 2010 fair showed a deficit of $27,000, which will be covered by tax levy. A $1 increase in admission would show a profit or break even.

In a related matter, Fair Coordinator Ann Webb reported gate sales for this year's fair were up Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but were slightly lower Sunday.

n Contract out the custodial services of the courthouse. Seven custodians are employed to maintain the courthouse, annex, highway shop and fairgrounds. The committee believes immediate savings of nearly $50,000 could be had if the county contracts some or all custodial services because the courthouse annex is cleaned by outside contractors.

n Increase the Parks Department budget to develop a website to attract more visitors. In a UW-River Falls outreach study last year, about 95% of county residents do not use the county park system.

"Further efforts should be made to promote these county resources to generate fees covering more costs," the committee said.

n Incorporate the Emergency Management Department into the Sheriff's Department to generate greater efficiency and to remove a report from the county administrative coordinator's responsibilities.

n The PCEDC funding debate.

n Request the Sheriff's Department to complete a study of the cost of housing prisoners in the jail versus contracting with other counties. According to the committee's findings, it's estimated the cost per day for in-county jail prisoners is $104 compared to $59.27 per day for contracting.

n Request the Highway Department develop a study on the ownership of highway equipment and the pricing of its raw materials, so the county is receiving a competitive price for its materials when sold.

n Direct the Human Services and Public Health departments to seek a closer collaboration. At the same time, study the advantages or disadvantages of a merger between the two.

n Sell the county's solid waste facility. In last month's Finance and Personnel Committee meeting, Rommel admitted it was one of the more difficult recommendations that could happen, but it needed to be looked at. Solid waste collection is currently covered by state grants and a $25 assessment annually for property containing dwellings. The department's budget, not counting Clean Sweep, was over $1.2 million and last year's fee generated $344,000. With River Falls and Prescott withdrawing from using the county's solid waste facilities, the concern is heightened even more, and becomes even greater if state aid is reduced.

n Form an agricultural society to lease the fairgrounds from the county. It's estimated the grounds have an expense of $185,000, while only $35,000 is brought in. From the same UW-RF study, 60% of county residents stated they never or seldom attend the fair.

n Explore the possibility of regionalizing UW-Extension services.

Rommel added the committee didn't research any state statutes or laws to see if their findings were lawful.

The County Board then unanimously approved to receive the report and refer it to the various committees listed for further study.

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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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