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Beltrami County Board debates budget committee process

Discussion was held during the Beltrami County Board’s June 21 session on whether to alter the makeup of the county budget committee.

Beltrami County Administration Building file photo.jpg
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BEMIDJI — Changes to the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners' budget process were approved on Tuesday, after a contentious discussion the board decided to leave the makeup of the county’s budget committee as is.

While the other changes to the process were approved without much discussion, including starting the process earlier, the question of whether to make any change to who sits on the budget committee took up much of the meeting.

The budget committee in past years has included county commissioners, the county administrator, the auditor/treasurer and representatives from some, but not all of the county's departments.

The disparity between which departments are included and which are not has been the main cause of contention.

“I’ve had some concerns with the composition of the budget committee,” said District 4 Commissioner Tim Sumner. “I don’t see how we’re going to make any improvements if the budget committee is the same.”

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In the materials presented to the board, a suggestion was made and then crossed out, to decrease the size of the budget committee to just five members.

This proposal was made after complaints have been raised over the past few years by department heads about which departments are included on the committee.

“I’ve talked to some other department heads that were really uncomfortable with how this process went and feel like they weren’t heard,” said District 2 Commissioner Reed Olson.

Most of the department heads agreed to reduce the committee to five, with two county commissioners, the county administrator, the auditor/treasurer and the finance director as members. This way no department head would feel disadvantaged compared to another.

However, two department heads from the attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office did not agree with the proposal and it was dropped.

When it came before the county board, however, discussion arose again with some commissioners feeling that the two departments against the change had put undue pressure on the others.

“Everybody was in consensus but two, so we upend the whole process to appease those two?” Olson asked his fellow board members.

County Attorney David Hanson denied that he or the sheriff’s office put pressure on other department heads, and explained why he was against the change to the committee.

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For Hanson, having representation of elected officials on the committee is important. This representation usually consists of a representative of the sheriff’s office and County Auditor/Treasurer JoDee Treat and has for the past few years included Hanson himself.

“I think it's advisable to have elected officials be part of the process,” Hanson said.

Other commissioners agreed with Hanson about the importance of elected officials being included and argued that the committee works well as it is.

“I think that we should stay there,” said Ward 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick. “We’re going to try and fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”

District 3 Commissioner Richard Anderson believed that the compromise between department heads to allow the other changes and keep the committee the same could solve some of the problems the county’s budgeting process has faced.

“If there’s an issue, with the changes that are written down, maybe it's going to work,” Anderson said.

When it came to a vote on whether to change the committee composition to five members, the motion failed 3-2, with Anderson, Lucachick and District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig opposed.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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