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Commissioners table decision on GIS Technician to review 2013 budget

MORRIS - Although the Stevens County Board of Commissioners acknowledged that they needed to move forward with a county-wide geographic information system, board members expressed concerns about expanding the county's payroll to hire a full-time GIS technician at their meeting Tuesday.

The board ultimately tabled the discussion until after they have had a chance to dig further into the county budget for 2013.

IT Director Scott Busche presented the board with a job description and a salary range for a GIS Technician who would be responsible for updating, maintaining and developing a GIS database for the county.

The starting salary range for the position was between $19.63 and $25.61 per hour. Bushe told the board he anticipated hiring at the low end of that range, budgeting a total for salary and benefits of $40,302 for 2013. The proposal also includes an initial $8,000 investment for hardware and software, and a $1,500 year annual support cost for software.

Busche told the board that the committee researching GIS for the county looked at the possibility of hiring a consultant to provide the services, but decided the county "wouldn't get a good bang for our buck" with a consultant.

Busche also anticipated that the new GIS technician would offset some current county expenses and generate some revenue, which would help pay for the position. The Sheriff's Office currently pays around $10,000 to a vendor for GIS work - a cost that would remain in-house - and the county could sell parcel data for additional revenue, said Busche.

Commissioner Phil Gausman, who serves on the county GIS committee, said his concern about the proposal is whether or not county department heads are comfortable with the fact that adding a GIS technician should make the county more efficient and could potentially lead to staff reductions.

"If this does happen, are [department heads] then comfortable with saying 'Yes, we could reduce staff,' and are they willing to do that, or is everybody going to dig in their heels and say 'We're not going to get rid of anybody no matter what'?" asked Gausman. "That's my concern is that we just keep building here, but at some point in time if it's feasible to reduce are we willing to reduce, do we have the backbone to do that?"

County Engineer/ Coordinator Brian Giese said that so far county staff have become more aware of the benefits that GIS could offer, but that they haven't talked specifically about staff reductions as a result.

Giese compared GIS to technology like computers or cell phones - "It's something that's not everyday now, but will be everyday to our children."

Commissioners Paul Watzke and Larry Sayre both noted that the county has already invested in looking into GIS and may fall behind other counties if the board doesn't move forward with the project.

"I think we're on the cutting edge of needing to fulfill something we've already stepped into and as reluctant as I am to expand our staff and our payroll, I think we have to complete the process," said Watzke.

Commissioner Ron Staples said that while he does agree that the county needs to be investing in GIS, until he has a chance to work through the county's 2013 budget he is unwilling to add another staff person to the county's payroll.

After some discussion, Gausman moved to table the discussion of a new GIS technician until after a budget work session, with the understanding that the request will come back. The board voted unanimously to approve Gausman's motion.

Commissioners see first draft of 2013 budget

The board got their first look at a preliminary budget for 2013 at Tuesday's meeting, and immediately scheduled a work session to dig into the numbers further.

This first budget draft included a preliminary proposed levy of $6.49 million, an increase of 9.64 percent over 2012. The total budget includes expenditures of about $13.47 million and revenue of about $6.73 million.

Staples said he was "really disappointed" that the proposed budget included a nearly $1.2 million increase in expenses over 2012.

Giese said that about $600,000 of the increase is for a more expansive road program - borrowing ahead to finish a large project in a single year rather than splitting it over two years - but that it will be an important discussion to have.

Instead, Giese said actual "growth in local government spending" is about 6.56 percent, around $449,000. Between $150,000 and $170,000 of that increase is a result of a proposed increase in staffing - a full-time Human Resources Director (already approved), an additional IT technician and an additional GIS technician - and wage increases for union employees.

Additionally, the county faces a 26 percent reduction in County Program Aid from 2012.

Giese told the board that department heads had very little guidance when putting together their initial budgets, other than some personnel changes that had already been approved.

"Our process is going to have to be one of prioritization," said Giese. "You'll have to decide within what we do, what are the priorities and where do we want to allocate our funding and what target do we want to come at."

The board will meet in a work session on Monday, Aug. 13 to get their first chance at the budget before adopting a preliminary levy in September.

Other business

• The board approved a $1,546 monthly fee to the West Central Regional Juvenile Center in Moorehead for 2013. The county contracts with the center for one-fourth of a bed each year to house juveniles who need out of home placement. The fee is an increase of $41 from 2012, which was a result of the number of days WCRJC housed Jacob Cobb after the murder of Tamara Lee Mason of Alberta.

"We got a heck of a deal this last year," said Willis.

• The board authorized Willis to spend up to $13,126 to contract for an emergency alert system for severe weather and other emergencies. The county currently contracts with Honeywell Alert, but Willis said his office is looking into a less expensive system that could connect with landline phones in the community automatically. A decision about which service to use will be made by the end of August, said Willis.

• The board accepted the resignation of Peter Heck, a maintenance worker at the Highway Department. Giese told the board he planned to meet with relevant staff to discuss replacement options before coming to the board.