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Dave Olson, Published April 07 2010

Clay County bracing for rough 2011

Clay County government may be able to weather additional cuts in state aid this year, but 2011 holds the potential to cause severe cuts in staff and services.

That’s the assessment Clay County commissioners received Tuesday from County Administrator Vijay Sethi, who said cuts in state aid next year could require a 15 percent reduction in county spending.

“We have to seriously look at cutting back on services,” Sethi said.

Since early 2009, county officials have made about $2 million in budget adjustments to account for cuts in state aid.

The county is bracing for another half-million-dollar reduction in state aid this year, and the amount could be as much as $1.2 million.

If the cut turns out to be the smaller amount, Sethi said the county could probably absorb the blow by not filling vacant positions, but he said deeper reductions in state aid expected next year, which could equal 15 percent of the county’s levy, will likely mean staff reductions.

The county has about 360 full- and part-time workers.

Rather than impose across-the-board cuts to address such a predicament, Sethi said the county may take its cue from counties that have made cuts based on a system that ranks priorities on a grid.

As a money-saving step, the commission Tuesday voted to offer an early retirement incentive for 2010 that is similar to one used by four employees in 2009 that resulted in savings of about $97,000.

This year’s program will be offered through June 11.

Under the plan, employees must have completed seven years of service with the county to be eligible.

Two incentives will be offered:

One is pay equal to 60 percent of unused sick leave, though employees must meet certain conditions to qualify.

Under the other option, the county would continue to make insurance contributions of $744 a month for 12 months, which could be taken as a lump sum, applied to actual health insurance premiums or a combination of the two.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555