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Staff, program cuts are options in county

The Pierce County Board voted last week to reduce programs and staff instead of drawing down fund balances if the county runs into budget problems this fall.

While the state hasn't yet adopted its budget and associated local government levy caps, the assumption is Pierce County will be allowed to increase its levy 2.296 percent. In past years, counties have been allowed to raise their property tax levies by their rate of new construction, and it is assumed that won't change.

Under the guidelines accepted by the board Tuesday, new positions may be justified only if they create enough efficiencies to pay for themselves or if there is money in the 2007 budget.

A proposal to examine a vehicle registration fee was deferred, but may be considered during the 2009 budget process.

Finance Director Julie Bricker reported that--taking into account a three percent increase in wages, health insurance and operating expenses--the county will have to levy $13.36 million to continue business as usual in 2008.

The 2.296 percent cap will allow the county to raise $381,121 more from property taxes than it did this year. But that will still leave the budget $107,000 short for 2008, according to Brickner.

Her budget numbers also include $750,000 for annual capital equipment/improvements (includes vehicles, computers, building outlay and office furniture) and $500,000 for special projects or capital improvements (has included land acquisition, communications upgrade and major software upgrades).

Rock crusher

The county board approved the purchase of a 1999 Telesmith cone crushing plant to replace the highway department's 35-year-old jaw/roll crusher.

All highway department equipment purchases of over $75,000 must be authorized by the county board. The replacement machine costs $430,250 and the county will get a trade-in allowance of $52,000 for its old machine.

Highway Commissioner Ross Christopherson reported the refurbished electric cone plant has one diesel engine compared to the three diesel engines on the older machine.

He said the newer machine, which is installed on a semi-trailer, uses less fuel per hour, needs fewer oil changes, needs less maintenance and is able to crush harder rock.

Christopherson estimated an annual savings of $38,000 on fuel and maintenance for a 10-year payback on the purchase cost of $378,250.

Other business

In other business, the board:

--Agreed to transfer $54,240 from the Park Development Fund to help the Town of Diamond Bluff develop and expand Sea Wing Park, a three-acre park with frontage on the Mississippi River.

--Increased the 2007 pay for the family court commissioner to $26,529. This is a one percent raise for the part-time job. Funding was included in the 2007 budget, but the raise hadn't previously been approved by the board.

--Rezoned 34 acres in the Town of Salem from Exclusive Agriculture to General Rural. Owners Bruce and Gail Anderson plan to give 15 acres to their son, who intends to build a house. Bruce Anderson said the site is a highly erodible hillside and isn't being farmed.

--Heard Assistant Corporation Counsel Lynn Lahti has resigned for personal reasons.