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County board tries new approach to setting budget

Douglas County is considering a new approach to managing its budget. 

Rather than basing the budget on historic precedence, supervisors are considering community priorities to guide county government spending.

Tuesday night, the county board met in committee to consider its priorities for the 2015 budget.

“Priority-based budgeting is a process used by local government to gain an understanding of their local community and values,” said Candy Holm-Anderson, assistant finance director. “… The expectations of the citizens are really one of the major factors in establishing priority-based budgeting.”

Traditional budgeting is often based on history, but the priority-based process looks at the community perspective, Holm-Anderson said. She said in addition to developing budget priorities, the process evaluates and measures what is accomplished.

“It makes sure that our budget resources are going to programs that are doing what we want them to do,” Holm-Anderson said. “It also makes us accountable to citizens.”

After a brief overview of priority-based budgeting, supervisors tossed out ideas about what they believe is important to improve the quality of life in Douglas County.

The ideas ran the gamut from ideas for housing, better serving needs of business and industry and helping struggling citizens to improving and promoting opportunities for tourism and industry.

Supervisors came up with more than 50 ideas for serving residents of Douglas County.

Among the board’s top priorities is improving county roads to meet the needs of industry by developing an industrial haul road, finding a means to fund county highway projects, improving housing opportunities, protecting the environment, and retaining employees and preparing for eventual retirements.

“Over half of the managers are eligible for retirement right now; 15 or over 75 percent are eligible in the next five years,” said Finance Director Ann Doucette.

And while public safety made the cut — alternatives to jail, reducing drug use and abuse, and a multidisciplinary approach to addressing crime — few supervisors considered the county’s largest annual expense a top priority.

The ideas will be compiled into lists for county committees to consider for implementation.

“One issue might go to more than one committee, and I can see that with a number of issues,” said County Administrator Andy Lisak.

Ideas for improving housing could go to the Land and Development, and Zoning committees or a proposal to replace a county road frequently used to haul timber from Douglas County to Cloquet could end up being topics for the county’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee, and the forestry committee, Lisak said.

He said the committees could then look at those goals, compare them to department priorities and refine departmental goals to determine the fiscal impact of the goals.

Lisak said as the county goes through its annual budget process, the county board could then determine if the budget goals match the goals set by supervisors.