County weighs budget increases

clay county commission 

Cari Drees 

Fuel prices and a shortage of workers dominated discussions around county budgets as the presentations from different county departments continue to be approved. In addition to the above noted items for the August 2 meeting there were safety requests from Mark Empting, Clay County Sheriff for department safety vest replacement and a push for tasers for each officer from Correctional Facility Administrator Kari Tuton. An interesting budget line item for the Sheriff’s Deparment was for the Medical Examiner to perform autopsies, a request that increased from $80,000 to $100,000. Commissioner Mongeau asked if it was required to have the autopsies processed in the state of Minnesota, and Empting replied that because all autopsies are performed in Minneapolis, a trial ready testimony can be obtained at any time.

As one of two new positions requested in the Home and Community Based Services that was alluded to last week at the formal budget presentation, a request for an additional social worker, beyond the approved motion to backfill a current position, was officially brought forward. This position is revenue neutral, based on Medicaid waivers, and the need is immediate said Rhonda Porter, Social Services Director. Supervisor Hollie Wanner addressed the Medicaid Waiver audit by DHS which went very well but contained a few recommendations. A new employee will allow the department to spend time in the suggested areas.

Considerable discussion surrounded the idea that this new position would begin immediately as opposed to advertising for a start date in 2023. Porter stated that the need was critical and “she would love a motion to fill this” immediately. Commissioner Kevin Campbell responded that because of the need for all of the budget information to make a decision, it was not precedent to hire for a 2023 budgeted position so quickly. Porter noted that the cost of this position was offset by revenue to make a case for immediate hiring. At the end of the discussion there was a motion to officially allow the immediate hiring of an additional Social Worker because of the revenue neutral nature of the hire.

As Ms. Wanner finished her presentation Supervisor Kirstin Wegenast took her place for a formal request for an Adult Mental Health worker. The position is state mandated and like the first two requests, the need is immediate. As opposed to the previous positions, this one is not a backfill or revenue generating. Commissioner Kahly noted that while this position is “not an income generating position, but it’s state mandated need and we don’t have enough staff to manage the need, so we can’t say no to this because we are mandated to provide this service. And also, it’s incumbent on us to make sure that the staff is not overly burdened by their workload.”

While there wasn’t much discussion regarding the position, once again the request for immediately filling the position  came to the forefront.  As stated before, a big concern surrounding the precedent and fairness of allowing these positions to be immediately filled while not allowing other personnel requests the same chance prompted a three for and two against vote for the position to start as soon as a viable candidate was found.

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