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Budget cuts won't affect Clay County services

The Clay County Commission has 11 days to trim $670,200 in expenditures from its 2003 budget. The cuts commissioners are considering, however, are not expected to have much of an impact on county services over the next year. "I don't thin...

The Clay County Commission has 11 days to trim $670,200 in expenditures from its 2003 budget.

The cuts commissioners are considering, however, are not expected to have much of an impact on county services over the next year.

"I don't think that these cuts are going to be very painful," said Clay County Commissioner Jon Evert. "I think we have been able to make the cuts here without sacrificing the services."

The commission adopted a preliminary levy of about $16.9 million in September.

That's a 6.28 percent hike from last year and the maximum allowed by state law.

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At that time, commissioners were looking at an estimated $609,530 in cuts, said Clay County Commissioner Vijay Sethi.

That number has since increased.

The board had estimated a 5 percent increase this year in worker's compensation and property/casualty insurance rates.

Instead, the county received a $40,270, 16.1 percent rate increase.

The county must also pay an additional $20,400 for insurance for the Clay County Rural Transit operator.

Commissioners will be able to cut about $192,000 from the deficit with funds received from an insurance dividend and federal food stamp incentive funds.

The board is expected to trim another 33 percent by denying requests for additional staff.

"The problem with adding staff, is it increases the budget on down the road," said Clay County Commissioner Mike McCarthy. "I understand most of our staff is overworked. The bottom line was taking it out of reserves or not hiring additional staff."

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Another 20 percent can be saved by freezing rates paid to service providers the county signs contracts with.

The county will also defer some purchases to future years.

Sethi, McCarthy and Evert agreed budget cuts will most likely be much deeper in 2004.

Minnesota officials announced Wednesday the state faces a nearly $4.6 billion budget deficit over the next two years.

Since governor-elect Tim Pawlenty has promised not to raise taxes -- county, school and city officials fear they could see reductions in government aid. The county may then be forced to make tough decisions like withholding cost of living wage adjustments.

"We have been pretty consistent with the 3 percent increases over the years," McCarthy said. "But depending on funding and mandates, we might not be in a position to do that. That's the only place we can go."

The county is expected to finalize 2003 budget cuts on Dec. 17.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Baird at (701) 241-5535

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