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Cut courthouse hours? That's one idea board chair has to deal with state cuts

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Douglas County commissioners were busy during the nearly three-hour long regularly scheduled board meeting Tuesday morning.

They listened to a presentation on the proposed acquisition of land for Lake Brophy Park, approved a proclamation for Child Abuse Month, delayed making a decision about the Lakes Area Humane Society's spay/neuter program, and approved a proposal for concerts on the courthouse lawn, just to name a few.

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Although it wasn't on the agenda, they talked candidly about budget issues.

Budget

Board Chair Paul Anderson told the rest of the commissioners he wanted to discuss the budget and that after looking into it, he had came up with some suggestions on how the county could cut back on expenses.

He said the county shouldn't wait to see what the Legislature is going to do and that waiting and not doing anything was "a bunch of bovine waste."

Although no action was taken at Tuesday's board meeting, one of Anderson's suggestions was to close the courthouse at 11 a.m. on Fridays. He said if hours for county employees were trimmed back to 32 hours a week, the board might avoid having to do any layoffs.

Anderson also asked the board to think about putting a freeze on wages, eliminating its step program for wage increases and adopting a long-range plan. He told the commissioners he would like them to report back in May.

Additionally, he asked the board to put a moratorium on all out-of-state travel for county employees, as well as for the commissioners.

At the March 9 board meeting, however, the commissioners approved out-of-state trips for two Douglas County Public Health employees. With a vote of 4-1, the commissioners decided to exempt the previously planned trips. Anderson voted against that decision.

A moratorium was approved prohibiting all upcoming out-of-state travel, unless the board deemed the trip a necessity.

Land acquisition

Douglas County Parks Superintendent Al Lieffort presented information to the board about a Regional Park Legacy Grant for acquisition of land to be added to Lake Brophy County Park.

The size of the additional land would be approximately 136 acres. Lieffort explained that the county would not purchase all the land at one time, but would acquire the land over the next few years. The land would be purchased through funds garnered from the Legacy Grant and funds from the county. He added that the county would have to apply at least six times for Legacy Act grant money.

The overall cost of the first land acquisition would be approximately $500,000. The grant money would provide 75 percent, or $375,000 of the total cost. The county's share would be $125,000.

After a public hearing was held on the issue during Tuesday's meeting, with both opposition and approval, the board discussed the issue amongst themselves.

Anderson said he did not want to see any funds for the purchase of the land fall back on taxpayers.

Lieffort explained that $375,000 would come from the state and that $125,000 would come from Douglas County revenues.

Anderson asked if the county would have to come up with the funds immediately and then told Lieffort, "Bear in mind, we can't afford it."

Lieffort countered back, noting that the county would have until 2012 to come up with the $125,000.

Commissioner Norm Salto asked how much the total cost was for all the parcels. Lieffort explained that there are three parcels and that all three combined have an appraised value of $2.9 million.

Commissioner Bev Bales said, "Al has pointed out this is great property, but it's just bad timing. We can't have enough land like this. I am definitely in favor of our parks. I think it's absolutely necessary to do it."

After a little more discussion, Commissioner Anderson asked, "Are we bailing out somebody who wants to get rid of their land? I just don't think we are in a position to do this."

After further discussion of the pros and cons, Bales made a motion that the county apply for the grant. Commissioner Dan Olson seconded the motion.

The vote failed by a 1-4 vote. Bales was the only commissioner to vote in favor of applying for the grant.

Anderson concluded by saying that he was concerned because he had little time to think about it. "I just don't want to see us put money back on the taxpayers."

The commissioners agreed that maybe they could take a look at the land acquisition next year if the land is still available.

Spay/neuter program

Louis Ross, Alexandria Township supervisor and Christin Klimek, Lakes Area Humane Society (LAHS) director, came before the board again about a funding request for a county spay/neuter program.

The commissioners first heard about the program at the February 9 board meeting, but held off making a decision at that time.

LAHS asked the commissioners to join in the effort by committing to a plan to sustain funding for the program, at a cost of $91,000 per year for the next five years.

Another option would have been to implement a $1 per capita commitment toward the program, which would have generated about $38,000.

Before Ross or Klimek got a chance to speak, Commissioner Anderson told them, "I don't think this is something we want to mess with."

Ross responded by saying he recognizes the board has to make some tough financial decisions, but implementing the $1 per capita would be a tremendous value.

"We are trying to be proactive," said Ross, calling the $1 per capita a spit in the ocean. Ross also noted that for every dollar invested in the program, it would save $3 in impound costs.

Ross explained the benefits of the program and how it would help to save residents from feral cats and dogs.

Anderson said, "For $18 a month, I can support a dog. For $16 a month, I can support a child [in a third world country]. Where are our priorities? It's very disgusting."

Klimek told Anderson she knew where he was coming from, but that LAHS was asking for the county's support. "It's simply $1 per capita," she pleaded.

After further discussion between board members, Ross and Klimek, Bales asked that the board not make a decision that day, but that it hold off until the board knows more of what the budget is going to look like.

Olson then made a motion to delay the board's decision until the budgeting process was complete. The motion was approved in a 5-0 vote.

Child Abuse Prevention Month

Representatives from Wings Family Services, Someplace Safe and Douglas County Social Services asked the board to approve a proclamation declaring the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Before reading the proclamation, Commissioner Anderson asked the representatives from the various organizations if it was going to cost the county any money.

After he was told no, Anderson read the proclamation and the board approved it in a 5-0 vote.

Concerts on the courthouse lawn

Chuck Wencl from the Red Willow Arts Coalition was at Tuesday's meeting to ask the board for its approval to host free community concerts on the lawn of the Douglas County Courthouse.

The proposed concerts would be held every Thursday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. beginning May 27 and ending September 2.

After a brief discussion about porta-potties and insurance, the board approved the request with a 5-0 vote.

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