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County to adopt 2014 budget
Final public hearing is Thursday
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Citizens have one last chance to make comments on the county's proposed spending plan for 2014.

The last of two required public hearings on the $21 million budget, which limits expenses to critical capital needs, will be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow in the assembly room of the Dawson County Government Center. A vote by the county commission to adopt the budget should follow the public hearing.

No one spoke in favor or against the proposed budget during the Aug. 15 hearing and few comments were made by commissioners on Aug. 8 when County Commission chairman Mike Berg presented the proposed plan to his fellow board members.

In addition to replacing four aging sheriff's patrol cars and to buy a new ambulance, the spending plan includes repairs to the county's swimming pool at Veterans Memorial Park and some new computers.

There is also a recommendation to use money from the county's solid waste fund to buy a utility vehicle for the transfer station.

As in years past, salaries and benefits represent the county's greatest expense at $12.9 million, or about 61 percent, of the overall budget.

With a slight overall increase of less than $2,000, the 2014 budget continues a hiring freeze, aside from upgrading two part-time positions to full time, one each in human resources and the tax commissioner's office. Both result from increased workloads created by new laws.

For the sixth consecutive year, the budget does not include a cost-of-living raise for employees, though Berg has recommended spending $23,000 on a study to compare salaries to those of similar-sized governments. He also wants funding for salary adjustments and increases for employees that "go above and beyond."

"I think all the employees in this county do a good job, but there are employees that do a better job and [need] to be rewarded. One way to do that is pay for performance."

The plan calls for no employee furloughs and restores $15,000 to the health department for a full-time environmental health employee and $9,000 to the library to alleviate furloughs.

Berg also pleaded with the board to restore funding to the local development authority, which is responsible for bringing new commercial and industrial developments to Dawson County.

"I can't be more emphatic about this," said Berg when presenting the county's proposed 2014 budget to the commission. "They are in danger within a year and a half of closing shop."

Commissioners cut funding to the authority in 2011, despite Berg's plea that the move could make Dawson appear anti-business.

Berg recommended that the commission restore $75,000 in funding, half of the authority's annual budget. In doing so, he noted how the authority had helped secure several new businesses announced recently.

"It's just essential as far as bringing in business into our community," he said.

The proposed budget recommends using $756,500 of the county's reserves to offset declines in property tax revenue, grading permits and business licenses, as well as electricity cost increases.

That would leave about $3.3 million in the county's reserve fund balance, still within the recommended 15 to 25 percent range, Berg said.

Commissioners have reviewed the proposed budget and can make suggestions, though it's likely any changes would be zero-based since they voted in July to keep the millage the same at 8.138 mills.