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Local

Board slashes $1 million from county budget

Putnam County Board member: 'We're running on bare bones'

HENNEPIN — The Putnam County Board, meeting on Nov. 12, passed a 2020 budget that cuts nearly $1 million out its typical $3 million budget.

The board until the last minute tangled over a $4,000 increase in the county clerk’s office budget meant to cover expenses for a presidential election year, but it’s that kind of diligence that cut almost one-third of the expenses from the budget, which covers the fiscal year from Dec. 1, 2019, through Nov. 30, 2020.

Board member Sheila Haage questioned why the county clerk’s budget request increased from $10,000 to $14,000 when the board as a whole has worked so diligently to reduce costs.

“We’re in a pinch, we have no money,” Haage said. “Yet we keep adding to this, adding to that. How does this keep happening?”

County Clerk Dan Kuhn pointed to the 2020 elections, both general and presidential, as the reason for the increased expense item. Initially, Kuhn said he budgeted $14,000, later reducing the cost projection, but in the end he expects the added expenses to be more in line with his original projection.

“I don’t want to go over budget,” Kuhn said. “But I will if that’s what has to happen. I have to run the election.”

Board member Charlie Lenkaitis was quick to say hours of work on the budget resulted in drastic cuts that are getting the board back on track and where they need to be.

“We’re running on bare bones,” he said. “We cut a third of our budget, and still have a functioning courthouse and departments. We’ve spent hours working on this, and we’re getting it under control and headed in the right direction.”

Board Chairman Steve Malavolti suggested the budget could be accepted as presented, and later in the fiscal year, funds could be appropriated for the clerk’s office based on needs.

Kuhn said funds to run his office often come from grants, and said last year he contributed $9,500 in reimbursements to the county’s general fund.

Malavolti reminded the board more expenses always are in the pipeline, pointing to a mandated minimum-wage increase, which will in turn raise the rates of other skilled workers, a move that will be necessary to keep qualified help in county offices.

“A minimum wage increase will drive up all wages,” he said. “We have to know that increasing minimum wage to $15 will drive up other costs. We aren’t going to attract skilled workers if you can work at Costco for $20 an hour. We also have to take into account the rising cost of health insurance.”

In the end, the board approved the budget as presented with the understanding that additional funds may need to be moved to cover election costs.

The budget calls for a total levy of just shy of $2.1 million, including $1.3 million for the general fund and highway, bridge, health department and $1.3 million for pensions, Social Security and insurance.

In other board news:

• The board approved the appointment of Harold Hayward to the Putnam County Conservation District.

• The board approved three-year terms for the board of health for Christina (Judd) Mennie, Shawn Bailey, Toni Lawley and Dina Lunkin.

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