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County levy down 1.78% for 2012

Residents of Otter Tail County escaped an increased county tax levy for 2012.

The County Board passed the levy - down 1.78 percent from last year.

Commissioner Doug Huebsch said the county was able to decrease the levy, even in tough times, because of successful efforts to streamline county government activities, thus cutting spending.

"It's because of the entire staff's hard work and dedication that we are able to pass these savings along to the taxpayer," Huebsch said.

Over the course of the year, county government officials have worked together to determine areas where they could consolidate, under the supervision of fewer sector managers.

All cuts made within the county - 35 in all - were done so through attrition. Departments will shrink from 17 to five, with a goal of doing so by 2014. A hiring freeze has also been put in place.

The idea is to have department managers cross-trained to work across "department" lines, creating a more efficient government system.

That approach is what Huebsch considers key for dealing with the county's budget, as costs for services are going to continue to rise.

Commissioners have also been working on ways to collaborate with other counties when it makes sense fiscally and geographically. A recent move in that direction deals with the expansion of the solid waste refuse burner in Perham, which will serve five counties when complete and allow counties to carry the burden together, rather than separately.

While not all services may be shared, Huebsch said it's worth looking into. County sizes in Minnesota are not created based on a set geographical or population formula, leaving some counties with small areas of high populations and others with wide open spaces and fewer residents. Combining when it makes sense could be the answer, according to Huebsch, and could mean less costs and just-as-efficient services for residents.

That's a message Huebsch has taken throughout the state. More recently, he addressed county government consolidation commissioners at a state-wide conference.