Faced with $7 million in budget reductions, Anoka County plans to cut 36 positions -- with corrections, service centers and libraries among the hardest hit. But few, if any, layoffs are expected.
The majority of the three dozen unfunded positions already were vacant, County Administrator Terry Johnson said Tuesday, hours before Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced budget cuts for the state. In other cases, staff employees whose jobs will be eliminated will be shifted to different departments, said Johnson and Jerry Soma, manager of the county's Human Service Division.
Among the jobs eliminated will be two of the county's four probation officers and a supervisor who dealt primarily with truancy. The two probation officers will move across department lines into social services positions, Soma said. The truancy supervisor's job, already vacant, won't be filled.
License center hours changed June 1, with centers no longer open on Saturdays but remaining open until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. Some county library branches have been closed on Sundays, Johnson said.
A mediation service for couples going through divorce will be eliminated, as will two court security positions.
Johnson said Pawlenty's budget recommendations were "right in line" with the fiscal adjustments the county is making. But he said he doubted the Anoka County board would be anxious to recoup revenue through a property tax levy.
County board Chairman Dennis Berg agreed.
"How much can property owners take?" Berg asked. "There's got to be another way. But I don't know what that is."
It was Berg who sent letters to county officials late last summer asking that they consider leaving vacancies open, knowing that the eventual cuts would not be easy, no matter how well prepared the county might seem to be.
"The impact of some of these cuts is pretty dramatic on the staffing required," Johnson said. "We'd like to restore Sunday library hours after the summer's over. We know the public will notice when checkpoints into the courts become slow and crowded."
Despite the cuts, county officials who began dissecting budgets last fall and met frequently with department heads in recent weeks were relieved to know that things in Anoka County could have been much worse.
The county needed to make $3.7 million in permanent cuts, another $1.8 million in one-time cuts, and absorb another $2.1 million in state aid lost last December, Johnson said.
"We really started preparing to hold down spending last fall, delaying the filling of vacant positions because of the uncertainty of the economy," Johnson said.
"We identified cuts that amounted to $7 million for all departments combined, and then met with departments to figure out how we could do this as painlessly as possible."
The cutting process actually dates back to 2003, when 94 positions went unfunded, Johnson said. The funding for 30 of those jobs was restored, leaving the county with 62 positions it had to eliminate. It was at that point that an emphasis was placed on deciding which vacant positions could remain unfilled, or which employees could seamlessly be shifted to new jobs.
"The county has loosened up, at least in Human Services, our ability to move across department lines," Soma said.
Added Johnson: "We're trying to maintain services without too much disruption in people's lives."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419