Last year's election created a more conservative county board, which wants to trim staff.
Scott County could well shed dozens of staff members in the months to come, and the county board's new chairman says that flows directly from the change in the board's makeup in last November's election.
"The exponential raising of taxes that we've seen in the past is not an option anymore," Tom Wolf said. "It's just not reality," given the economy and the voters' mood.
Until last fall's elections, the board was dominated by the three suburban commissioners from the north end of the county who argued for quality-of-life spending on things like parks and trails.
But the election in Shakopee of former Sheriff Dave Menden changed the dynamic. Sharply critical of county spending habits, he is expected to add weight to the votes of the two rural commissioners from the south.
There's a direct link between the new board makeup, Wolf said, and the direction in which the county is heading this year when it comes to taxes and spending.
Among the highlights:
• Early retirement will be offered to 121 people, in the belief that between 20 and 35 will accept.
• Nearly 50 staff members are eligible for a new "phased retirement" option, easing them toward departure by reducing their hours without losing their expertise entirely.
• The county is declaring its intent to hold increases in its tax levy to the amount of construction that adds to its tax base.
Property owners could still see hikes, but it would be related more to property values than taxing decisions.
The staff reductions are being described as a comfortable alternative to layoffs, with commissioners and senior managers agreeing that layoffs are a psychological lightning bolt that creates unease and mutes productivity.
"Layoffs send an awful message," said Joe Wagner, a rural commissioner who complained during last fall's campaign about staffing levels. "Paranoia comes awfully fast."
Jack Kemme, head of employee relations, agreed one morning last week as commissioners and senior staff weighed their options in a conference room during an informal workshop.
"Layoffs," he said, "change the culture of an organization and make people fearful ... This way you get to the same destination but on a much more positive note.
"And those who are still here can get their work done," as opposed to burning anxious hours wondering who's next.
The county's staffing numbers are not expected to be reduced by anything close to the total number of people eligible for retirement options.
Rather, the goal in most cases is to hold positions open for a period of time to recoup the cost of incentives, then replace high-end salaried workers with new ones who get paid less. Thus the savings would be long-term; there might not be any in the first year.
County Administrator Gary Shelton stressed that the county has not been profligate with hiring.
Since 2002, he said, the county has seen huge population growth but county staffing numbers are about the same today as they were then.
"Technology has helped make that possible," he said. "Electronic ticketing through the Sheriff's Office, for example."
Not everyone will be able to take early retirement.
In the Sheriff's Office, for example, owing to staffing needs, deputies and dispatchers may not take it, but jailers can.
David Peterson • 952-882-9023