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Stevens, Big Stone agree to share human resources, IT services

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Stevens County continued its efforts to consolidate operations and save money by approving sharing agreements for human resources and information technology services with Big Stone County.

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The board unanimously approved a plan Tuesday that will allow Big Stone County Human Resources Director Sue Schultz to handle those duties for Stevens County. The board also approved a measure that will direct Stevens County IT Director Scott Busche to help Big Stone with technical assistance until the county can map out its future IT direction.

The HR and IT agreements are somewhat different. Schultz, who lives in Morris, will remain an employee of Big Stone County, and Big Stone will be the fiscal agent under the arrangement and will bill Stevens County for 50 percent of the costs for HR services. Office space and equipment will be provided by both counties and hours will be arranged.

The agreement expires on Dec. 31, 2010 but it's possible it could be extended if both counties view it favorably. Stevens County will pay $20,120. If the agreement is renewed for 2011, the county's share would be $46,756.

The IT agreement amounts to temporary assistance from Stevens to Big Stone. Busche will coordinate an assessment of Big Stone's technology and make recommendations about future needs, and he may be asked to provide oversight if and when Big Stone moves to bring in new IT employees.

The IT agreement, too, will expire in December. Busche's time and travels will be recorded and Big Stone will be billed for his services.

In other county business:

• The Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust announced dividends of about $20 million, and Stevens County's share is about $116,000.

The MCIT provides Minnesota county governments and related organizations with property, casualty and workers' compensation coverage, as well as other services for public entities.

• The county board approved a contract with Marco Workplace Interiors for almost $174,000 for furniture for the new courthouse. In total, furniture, fixtures and equipment for the new building is $205,751. The county budgeted $253,000 for the expenditures.

• The board continued debate about establishing a capital improvement budget, with about $1.1 million from the sale of the county's ambulance service as seed money.

Counties and cities are concerned that the state might target undesignated funds as a reason for reducing aid payments to some local governments, and they are exploring the idea of designating fund balances for specific uses.

Commissioner Paul Watzke floated the proposal of using a portion of the money to pay down debt on the courthouse project and using the remaining money to establish the capital improvement fund. Watzke said that interest returns are so low at this point that it might be a better use of some of the ambulance service proceeds to reduce the bonding debt and also reduce the levy on taxpayers.

The board instructed Auditor/Treasurer Neil Wiese to compare the financial benefits of each approach.

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