Palo Alto County's Board of Supervisors put a pair of county budgets under the microscope during their weekly meeting on Feb. 12. The County Conservation and Sheriff's budgets generated the discussion during the meeting.
Art Hampe, Executive Director of the Palo Alto County Conservation Board, was accompanied by his board of directors as he opened the session by asking the Supervisors for a final number on how much they wanted him to cut from his budget. "Our board has passed a budget that was $5,800 less than last year."
"I'd move to cut $100,000 from the budget," Supervisor Jerry Hofstad said Supervisor Ed Noonan, who participated in the meeting via conference call, offered a second to Hofstad's motion.
With a motion on the floor, Board Chair Ron Graettinger called for a roll-call vote. Supervisors Hofstad and Noonan cast aye votes, while Graettinger, Keith Wirtz and Linus Solberg voted nay. With the 3-2 vote against the motion, the motion failed.
"So where do you feel I can cut, and how much?" Hampe asked the board.
"I was looking at this over the weekend and $30,000 for seasonal help seems like a lot," Graettinger observed.
Hampe explained that figure covered the salaries of two college students and two older part-time employees who assist in the summer with mowing and related duties.
"I think $100,000 was too much," Wirtz said, as he explained how he had visited with Conservation Board member Tony Streit over the weekend. According to Wirtz, Streit offered a suggestion that each of the supervisors spend a day with Hampe, shadowing the director to get a better handle on what the Conservation Board employees do.
"Like I told Keith, it would give each of you a chance to get to know Art, learn his vision for conservation just spend a half a day in the truck with him," Streit said.
"I guess I was thinking a cut of $25,000," Wirtz said. "We need to get through this year and get this whole issue resolved."
"I understand where you're coming from," Hampe told the Supervisors. "You've got a tough job in trying to keep the budgets in check, but I don't envy you at all."
"If Conservation cut one employee, what programs would you need to cut back on?" Noonan asked.
"That would be hard to say right off hand," Hampe answered. "We'd have to look at things."
Noting that the Conservation Board was very involved in the ongoing restoration efforts at Lost Island Lake in a partnership with the Clay County Conservation Board and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Hampe reminded the board that partnerships were important.
"The DNR looks for partnerships in projects, and if you're cutting a portion of our budget, you're cutting a partner."
Solberg then moved to cut the Conservation budget by $10,000, which was seconded by Graettinger. Graettinger then offered an amendment to that motion, calling for two percent raises for all staff, with no step raises. Wirtz offered a second to the amendment.
In a vote on the original motion for the $10,000 budget cut, Supervisors Wirtz, Solberg and Graettinger voted aye, with Noonan and Hofstad voted nay. With that motion passing 3-2, the amendment for salaries received aye votes from Graettinger, Wirtz and Solberg, with Noonan and Hofstad voted nay. The amendment then passed on a 3-2 motion.
With marching orders to cut $10,000 from his budget, Hampe again raised the possibility of the board passing a resolution to allow the Conservation Board to keep the income from its' campground at Lost Island, rather than returning it to the county's general fund.
"We could put that in the Capital Improvement Trust in our budget, and that would give us money to save up for projects like building a cabin to rent or work on our roads," Hampe said.
The board agreed to look at the idea and discuss it in a joint meeting with the Conservation Board in the near future.
The Supervisors then met with Sheriff Lynn Schultes to ask about some budget items in the Sheriff's budget.
Schultes had budgeted to replace two patrol vehicles, one with 80,000 miles and another with 108,000 miles. Both vehicles have issues with their transmissions.
Graettinger asked Schultes what the cost would be to replace or repair the transmission on the newer vehicle. Schultes estimated around $5,000. The board agreed the transmission repair would be a good idea, and left $28,000 in the vehicle replacement budget.
A request to purchase two new radar units, at a cost of $2,000 each, was nixed by the board. However, the board allowed $800 in a line item to allow Schultes to begin acquiring specialized cage equipment in patrol vehicles to separate prisoners from the deputies.
In a final item, Schultes informed the board that he was increasing the jail's electricity budget by $455 for increases in electrical rates.