Cass County’s spending plan for next year has been approved.
Commissioners gave their stamp of approval on the county’s annual 2014 budget during a regular meeting Dec. 12 with a vote 3-0, one month prior to the Friday, Jan. 10 deadline.
“There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into this,” Presiding Commissioner Jeff Cox said. “I’m happy to see us get the budget done ahead of the game.”
Cox serves as the chief budget officer for the county.
“Some of the main priorities of the 2014 budget proposal include bringing the county’s focus back toward providing essential services to its citizens, planning over the long term in order to meet debt obligations, and taking a holistic approach to employee compensation,” said Cox, prior to the budget’s approval.
The highlight of the budget factors in debt service payments the county will owe on the now-defunct Trigen experiment. The budget outlines $175,000 that will be paid on debt service for the project that will take at least two decades to pay back.
“Gross mistakes were made by the prior Commission and we’re the ones holding the bag now and having to deal with those,” Cox said.
In addition, Cox has designated $400,000 from the general fund revenue to go into a debt set-aside fund so the county doesn’t default on the Justice Center refinance to fund the broadband project.
“There was a lot more things we would have liked to do in this year’s budget, but it really comes down to being responsible with the money we have, focusing on these long-term debt obligations, and planning for the long-term instead of budgeting crisis to crisis we’ve seen in recent years,” Cox said.
Also included in the plan is a minor increase of county employee benefits, but no salary increases.
The proposed budget increases employees from a L1 to L3 level in the employee Lager’s retirement program.
Prior to the budget crisis four years ago, employees had been at the L6 level, in which Cox described as a “mid-level” program.
The county will also be adding an additional $50 month to their contribution toward employee health insurance premiums and $50 a month to employees with a health savings account.
“I think by and large we were successful in getting some of the core things done that we wanted to and focus on the essential public services that the county government is supposed to be providing to the citizens,” Cox said.
The county will also be able to hire a new maintenance and codes employee.
“Every department just about asked for more people but those are the departments, in addition to many that were cut, they were grossly cut and understaffed back during the budget crises of 2010,” Cox said.
The budget also includes a $600,000 emergency reserve fund that is statutorily required.
Auditor Ron Johnson thanked Cox for his work.
“The one thing that this Commission did as a whole is that you have started the process of planning some recovery for us on our long-term debt,” he said. “I’m thanking you for realizing the reality, putting the money back and helping fix the problem.”