Commissioners face tight budgets, explore ‘drastic measures’ to reduce expenses – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Commissioners face tight budgets, explore ‘drastic measures’ to reduce expenses

Although the 2014 budget was set earlier this year, Osage County commissioners are looking for ways to reduce expenditures next year, and have shown that cutting departments and employees are among possible measures under consideration. During a Nov. 12 meeting, the commissioners agreed to eliminate the county’s information technology department along with that department’s only employee, Robert Duncan. Monday, commissioners considered proposals from county health department director Anne Gray that could possibly cut positions and eliminate some services provided by that department.

At the Nov. 12 meeting, a motion by Osage County Commissioner Ken Kuykendall to eliminate the information technology department, and terminate Duncan “and offer him a separation agreement the terms of which will remain confidential pursuant to privacy concerns” was approved unanimously by the commissioners.

Yesterday the commissioners finalized that action by approving the separation agreement, which had since been accepted by Duncan.

Contacted last week, Duncan said he could not disclose details of the separation agreement due to stipulations by the county that it remain confidential. Duncan confirmed he had complied with a restraining order filed by county counselor Caleb Crook on Nov. 15. The restraining order, filed in Osage County District Court, required that Duncan provide all information deemed necessary for controlling the county’s information technology systems, cease altering or accessing those systems or networks, and turn over any county-owned equipment in Duncan’s possession, specifically a Hewlett Packard laptop computer.

Following the commissioners’ Nov. 12 action to offer a confidential separation agreement to Duncan, Osage County News made an open records request for access to the agreement. Crook denied access in a letter dated Dec. 4, in which he said the agreement would remain confidential until accepted by Duncan “in order to protect Mr. Duncan’s privacy.”

Monday, following the commissioners’ approval of the agreement, Crook said the agreement was now subject to public disclosure as an employment related agreement, which is open according to the state’s open records laws. Crook also noted that both parties had agreed that stipulations of confidentiality were to be removed from the agreement.

The agreement showed that the county would not immediately realize any savings from elimination of the information technology department, as Duncan is to be paid his full salary and benefits for 90 days from his termination date, along with all accrued vacation and sick leave. Duncan’s rate of pay was $13.60 per hour at the time of his termination.

The agreement stipulates that the county will offer a statement to any future employers that Duncan is eligible to be rehired by the county if he were to apply for an open position, but also stipulates that Duncan agrees he will not apply for any open position with the county.

Duncan also agreed to “not make disparaging or negative remarks to anyone about Employer, its agents, employees, officers, and officials or its management decisions at any time in the future.”

Kuykendall later said that in shuttering the information technology department, commissioners were exploring options to contract for those services to save money next year.

In Monday’s meeting, the commissioners continued their review of the health department, with Gray reporting she had met with the county’s auditor last week to go over expenditures, revenues, programs “and options for 2014 and future years.”

Gray presented a proposal in which she laid out measures that could reduce expenditures in the health department, including raising fees for some services and charging fees for others that were previously provided at no charge, ceasing to participate in a federal family planning grant, stop contracting for emergency preparedness services, and cease expenditures for promotional items except to buy advertising from Yellow Pages and a local newspaper. Gray’s proposal also suggested that layoffs of certain positions could be arranged by reassigning duties and eliminating non-required services. If all measures were adopted, Gray said it would provide a net savings of $36,480 in next year’s budget.

After hearing from Gray, the commissioners then met with her in executive session to protect the privacy of non-elected personnel. Returning to open session, the commissioners took no action on Gray’s proposals, but agreed that fees should be charged for services and that the health department is the county’s “current problem child” as stated by Kuykendall.

After the meeting, Kuykendall confirmed that commissioners would be reviewing budgets for each county department in coming months, but the health department needed immediate attention due to exceeding its budget and a reduction in expected revenues. He said as the end of the current fiscal year approached, the county’s general fund had already been tapped to supplement the health department’s budget.

He said commissioners are looking at ways to save funds in 2014 to provide relief for 2015’s county budget, already predicted to be tight due to declining revenues from state government. Commissioners have previously, repeatedly complained publicly about the state’s lawmakers shifting the burden of providing necessary services onto local government.

Although all departments will be reviewed, Kuykendall said commissioners have no plans to lay off any other positions this year, but said “drastic measures” could be considered in all county departments. He also noted that although cuts will need to be made, needed expenditures would continue, pointing to the purchase of $75,000 in radios for the sheriff’s department approved by commissioners Monday. In approving the purchase of the radios as requested by Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn, commissioners noted the sheriff’s office’s radios are about 20 years old, and upgrading to new radios is necessary as a safety issue. With a portion of the radio funds coming from the county’s lake patrol fund and 911 fund, the commissioners agreed to arrange for a three-year lease-purchase of $40,353 of the purchase, with the first payment occurring in 2015.

Also during Monday’s meeting, the commissioners approved the purchase of a recycling trailer, at a cost of $5,750, to serve the Burlingame area.

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