Davison County looks to trim highway budgetCommissioners still seeking details regarding spending on healthcare for the poor.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Davison County Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg got a chance to take his best budget shot before the Davison County commissioners on Tuesday, and he took it — submitting 2012 budget requests totaling about $4.3 million.
Commissioner David Weitala said, with intended understatement, “Rusty, there’s going to be some carving here.”
The problem, Auditor Susan Kiepke said later, is a bottom line one. “We don’t have the money.”
Weinberg’s request has about $2.595 million for various road maintenance and paving projects. They include 29.5 miles of chip-and-seal projects worth about $540,000; five miles of paving on 408th Avenue for $600,000; six miles of mat paving on Betts Road for $720,000; regrading two miles of County Highway 41 for $125,000; paving two miles of 247th Street near the ethanol plant for $240,000; and paving three miles of 404th Avenue between the county line at 244th Street and 247th Street for $360,000. Another $10,000 would go toward bridge inspections and road striping.
“Some of those projects will have to go unless he has money the county doesn’t know about,” Kiepke said. “I’m pretty sure that $2 million is not going to drop out of the sky,”
This year’s highway budget was $2,428,764, she said, a figure arrived at after the commissioners whacked about $2 million from Weinberg’s 2011 request.
“That’s not the way you do budgeting,” Kiepke said, annoyed.
Still missing from Tuesday’s budget discussion was an estimate of anticipated revenues for 2012.
Kiepke said county income will rise with a combination of factors that include growth and the Consumer Price Index. The CPI rose by 2.1 percent, she said, but growth figures from real estate valuations are not yet available, she said.
“We’re close on getting those numbers and should have them from the Office of Equalization soon,” she said.
In other business Tuesday, Welfare Director Steve McClure, with help from administrative assistant Dawn Grissom, outlined the extensive processes his office must observe for indigent medical care.
The commissioners expressed gratitude for the information, but said they still need more information for budgeting purposes.
For 2011 the county budgeted $120,000 for indigent health care at Avera Queen of Peace and $120,000 for indigent health care at other hospitals. Similar amounts were budgeted for 2009 and 2010.
In 2009, the county paid Queen of Peace $143,948 for indigent care and other hospitals $133,064. In 2010, Queen of Peace got $146,859, and other hospitals $69,179.
McClure said the extended claims and payment processes can drag budgets out for years, and the process makes fiscal planning tough. Late submissions from hospitals for services rendered to patients two years earlier can easily absorb current budgets, he said.
McClure said his office is already “$25,000 in the hole.”
That wasn’t good enough for Commissioner Denny Kiner, who said the commissioners still require better estimates of potential liabilities in order to budget correctly.
“For us to budget, we need the worst-case scenario,” Kiner said. “Perhaps we’re going to have to take the last three or four years and choose a figure to go by.”
That could be a risky path, Weitala said. “What we spent is not necessarily a reflection of what we owe.”
In other business, the commissioners:
* Noted that about $500,000 in road projects must still be completed in 2011. The main projects, presented by Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg, include a 2-inch mat overlay on Betts Road from 247th to 248th streets for $120,000 and a similar mat overlay on Highway 41 from 408th Avenue to Highway 37 for $240,000.
* Heard from LifeQuest Executive Director Daryl Kilstrom, who gave his annual appeal for the county for donations to support his financially struggling agency. The county gave LifeQuest $5,000 last year. Recognizing the tough fiscal climate, Kilstrom told the commissioners that he would not request an additional amount this year but said his organization could certainly use any extra funds if they become available.
LifeQuest, which helps the developmentally disabled, serves 160 people every day of the year, he said, 48 of whom are Davison County residents. It requires 195 full- and part-time staff members to provide those necessary services, Kilstrom said.
Kiltstrom said LifeQuest faces a net reduction of 4.5 percent in income, or about $250,000, for fiscal year 2012. He said his staff members are working harder to take up the slack and employees are paying a greater portion of their own health benefits. The organization has also increased its fundraising efforts.
* Noted that the Mitchell Area Development Corporation has submitted a request for $10,000 for the 2012 budget year.
* Were told by Weed Supervisor John Geidel, in a preliminary budget, that the county’s small fleet of spraying vehicles is showing its age. “We have three old pieces of equipment and I’d like to start replacing some,” he said. He also recommended that the county reduce the number of warning letters, from two to one, to landowners who fail to control weeds on their land. “We’re wasting too much time,” Geidel said. “One letter should be sufficient.” Leafy spurge continues to be a problem and wet weather has fostered a bumper crop of Canadian thistle throughout the county, Geidel said.
* Tabled, until next week, a review of the county maintenance budget.
* Approved the expenditure of $9,000 for 1,000 tons of gravel from Doug Miiller for various county road projects.
* Approved, sitting as the Board of Adjustment, plats recommended for approval by the county Planning and Zoning Commission by applicants Dave Backlund of Firesteel Links LLC and Beverly Carlson.
The commissioners also approved a lot size variance request from Gary Bussmus that will allow a family member to build a home on a 4-acre lot instead of the minimum 25 acres required by the county zoning code.
* Denied a request from Virginia Baas, wife of Kyle Baas, to dismiss the $168 balance remaining on her husband’s $328 ambulance bill from 1994. Mrs. Baas said she is being called by a collections company about the debt. It was her understanding that the debt had been paid.
“I don’t know why the insurance company didn’t pay this,” she said, and the county sent her no requests for payment.
Auditor Susan Kiepke said past due ambulance bills were costing the county more to collect than they were worth, and in 2007 all old bills were referred to collections. Since then, no billing notices have been sent out by the county, she said.
Mrs. Baas said her husband is now on disability, she must work two jobs to make ends meet, and paying the bill would be a hardship. Since they haven’t forgiven past bills, the commissioners declined to dismiss the Baas bill. Mrs. Baas was directed to work out a payment schedule with the auditor and pay some amount each month. She won’t be contacted by collections, she was told, unless she defaults on payments.
Since the debt has been referred to collections, the county must pay a share of any money it collects on the debt to the collections agency. It may not charge any interest on the debt.
* Approved two raffle permit requests, one from the Helping Hand Pantry, and another from the Mitchell Quarterback Club.