Tricounty News

Stearns Commissioner Board action

Hiring freeze Stearns County put a hiring freeze in effect beginning immediately in response to the state's $935 million deficit and in anticipation of a reduction in funds from the state. The Board of Commissioners voted to put a hiring freeze in place for three months, until May 31, 2008, at which time the state legislature will have ended its session and the County will know what, if any, state aid cuts there will be in response to the budget shortfall. At that time, the County would then discontinue, modify or extend the hiring freeze. In the meantime, any exceptions and requests for hire will have to go to the Board of Commissioners for their authorization. A hiring freeze is something the county can do right now to really save money. It's estimated a delay of filling open positions could save the county approximately a quarter of a million dollars. "Being proactive will help us", noted Commissioner Mark Sakry. "If we wait until the legislature makes its decision, whenever it might be, we get several months into the year and we have less chance to adjust. So I think this a good move at this point because it gives us more time to spread the pain of the cuts throughout the budget for 2008." This is just one step the County is taking in response to the state deficit. The Budget Committee is also looking into across the board 1-2 percent departmental cutbacks, limiting out-of-state travel and non-departmental cuts, such as debt service and interest income. A budget reduction plan will go before the Board of Commissioners for their approval on either Tuesday, March 25, or April 1. Comprehensive Plan approved After two years of planning, meetings and numerous public input sessions, the County Board approved the 2030 Stearns County Comprehensive Plan. At the public hearing on Tuesday, only a couple of comments were made and taken into consideration for inclusion in the plan. The Comprehensive Plan lays out how the county will deal with and plan for land use, park and recreation development, natural resource protection, transportation, intergovernmental cooperation and economic development. Steps to now implement the Comprehensive Plan are under way. One of the primary methods to execute the Plan is to update the County's Land Use and Zoning Ordinance, which will be the next action taken. A consultant will be hired for this process, a committee formed and public outreach will occur. Human Services report Stearns County's Human Services Department ranked well in a statewide report on various selected performance measures. The report measured performance on a local level and compared it to a statewide average. On nearly all of the 23 measures, Stearns County ranked above the state average. Comparisons were done in areas such as, Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) work participation rate, child support collections, child protection investigations, child foster care and adoption, mental health services and Human Service spending per capita. The one area that caught the most attention of Human Services staff is in the number of children adopted within 24 months. The state average was 48 percent; Stearns County only has a 29 percent adoption rate. Last year a second social worker was added in this area to move the adoption process along. Currently, Stearns County has between 55-60 children waiting for adoption. The other area where staff would like to see improvement is in the number of children in the child welfare system receiving free mental health screenings. The state average was 32 percent and Stearns County is at 21 percent. Human Services administrator Roma Steil talked about early assessments. "It is an optional screening, but we believe there's great benefit to receiving the screening so we can catch mental health issues early on." One other section in the report took a look at overall Human Service spending. When it came to the amount of county funds devoted to Human Services per capita, Stearns County spent $91, compared to the state average of $122. Human Services will now take this data and plan how to proceed.