County votes to increase salaries in 2012-13 budget

Lisa Jager
The Ramsey County Commission grappled at length about the budget before finally voting to approve it at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

County employees to see an eight percent increase.

Following a lengthy debate, the Ramsey County commissioners voted to give county workers a collective salary increase of $200,000, or eight percent, in the 2012-13 budget over the 2011-12 budget.

The increase does not provide Rhonda Allery, head of social services for Ramsey County, with the full amount she says she needs to adequately fund and staff her department. Allery said she needs approximately $50,000 in additional funding. The approved budget increase does include funding to hire a social services worker, however, Allery said she is not able to pay at "market point" or value. "I pay people the lowest in the state," she said.

Commissioner Ed Brown said regarding social services, "we don't want problems like our neighbors have been having due to lack of funding" and moved to increase funding for social services. However, that motion died on the table due to a lack of a second.

Some county department heads, as well as county commission members, pointed out that other county departments are in need of additional funding as well.

"We are down to the bare bones," Sheriff Steve Nelson said. He also said that pay offered to new officers is not at the level it should be.

Commissioner Scott Diseth said "how do we pick out one department in the county" and not offer increases to others. "We need to be fair across the board."

The commission voted to approve a full budget amount for county salaries in 2012-13 of $2.83 million. County Commission Chair Bill Mertens suggested that Allery may be able to find additional funding through the state budget process.

Other business

In other business, the commission heard from Paul Christenson regarding the proposed closure of the four railroad crossings in Churches Ferry by the railroad, and asked for the commission's support in opposing the closures. Christenson cited "safety issues" as the reason to not close all the crossings and added that roads in the Churches Ferry area are used by a variety of people commuting to area towns, as well as by farmers and hunters. The commission passed a motion supporting opposition to the closures.

In other department news:

Kristen Nelsen from Emergency Management reported that the department recently purchased new equipment for first responders through a $40,000 grant from Homeland Security.

Tax director Jerry Ratzlaff said he is working with the state of North Dakota on ag soil samples and recently received a letter from the state that the county is in compliance and consequently will not be charged any penalties this year. He said he has heard from other area counties who are struggling with compliance issues.

Highway superintendent Kevin Fieldsend said paving on County Road 2 is complete and that County Road 6 will be closed for a couple days this fall for improvements with the public being given advance notice.

County agent Bill Hodous said plans are being made for the annual Roundup, which is only 100 days away, and asked to be informed of any "hot topics" that should be included.