Archived Story

County looks at reorganization

Published 5:15pm Tuesday, September 7, 2010 Updated 8:15am Friday, September 10, 2010

As Otter Tail County continues its studies to come up with a viable long-term plan on how to reorganize, the goals remain the same: save dollars for taxpayers and provide services with better efficiency in mind.

“Change is difficult, but necessary,” said Commissioner Doug Huebsch during Tuesday’s weekly meeting of the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners.

With that in mind, Huebsch and the other four county commissioners know that studies and a proper analysis are necessary in order for the master plan (reorganization) to be successful.

Attrition will help in future years, aside from the hiring freeze. County board members said that jobs in country government are secure, and the board wants input from all employees.

“How we do business is altered by technologies we employ in 2010 and in future years,” said Commissioner Lee Rogness. “What was done for various reasons in previous years now changes, with the new technology.”

Department heads, including spokesperson Rick West, comprise a Personnel Board to come up with ways to save funds. Thus far they have four categories: reorganization proposals, revenue enhancements/reduction proposals, service reduction ideas and internal process review.

Not all department heads comprise the Personnel Board. They are elected. The county coordinator and county attorney serve as ex officio members and there is also a member of the Employees’ Committee who make up the Personnel Board.

The Personnel Committee is a working committee of the Board of Commissioners. Each County Board Chairman names the two commissioners who will serve on this committee (Everett Erickson and John Lindquist). Additional members include County Attorney David Hauser, County Coordinator Larry Krohn and Human Resources Coordinator Karen Lundin.

Commissioners see the possibility of merging services with other counties in order to save costs. A step in that direction is already in place with County Solid Waste Director Mike Hanan also having those duties in Wadena and Todd counties.

On Tuesday the commissioners approved a plan, as recommended by the personnel committee, to have an employee (from internally) assume duties for the retiring County Assessor Bob Moe, on an interim basis, starting in October. This comes about since an employee is available through the current job (appraising) classification.

The County Assessor’s Office is responsible for the valuation and classification of all taxable real and personal property in the county. The office also values all of the tax exempt property in the county.

Job description questionnaires have been sent to county employees and the county, through the personnel committee, is taking a look at what other counties are doing when it comes to reorganization. Many departments in Otter Tail and surrounding counties have cross functions.

Commissioners said that combining county departments is on the table, but that nothing concrete has been decided. Another option is to have smaller departments become part of larger departments, if they have interrelated functions. Commissioners said Tuesday that scenario would be ideal but may be in conflict with what statutes allow. Legislative changes may be needed, they added.

“The main thing,” said Commissioner Lindquist,” is to build a master plan, for where we as a county want to go in future months.”

John Dinsmore, county director of human services, said previously that his department is looking into sharing financial services on a regional basis, with adjoining counties. Commissioners said that’s an example of the types of proposals needed in future months, and years.

The next step for the various department heads who comprise the Personnel Board is to work with the county board in submitting recommendations. Then, a financial impact analysis would be in order.

The county 2010 budget is approximately $68 million, and Otter Tail County already has seen at least $1.3 million in state aid cuts for this calendar year.

Department heads started brainstorming for ways to save funds on March 12. Originally, they came up with 118 proposals. Later, that number was pared to 27 and finally to four categories.

County department heads are looking at short-term solutions, long-term solutions and viability of the various proposals.

As for current proposals to save money and cut costs, county department heads placed regionalizing, collaborating and developing shared services across multiple counties under the banner of revenue enhancements/reduction proposals.

Any while other counties, aside from Otter Tail County, are also looking at reorganization, County Attorney David Hauser said they (the various counties) don’t want to lose their identity and closeness.

In the final analysis, said commissioners, it comes down to conserving resources and providing efficiency of services for county residents.

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