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New Ramsey County manager introduces herself — and warns of cuts

A memo to Ramsey County employees from new County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt — in which she both introduces herself and warns that the economic crisis will force the county to use its cash reserves to cover a shortfall — shows up in the Pioneer Press City Hall Scoop blog.

Kleinschmidt had previously been director of the county’s Budgeting & Accounting office, and notes that she had experience six years ago responding to a similar state budget crisis.

She says the county will make “strategic changes, not across-the-board cuts,” in dealing with whatever shortfalls in state funding arise.

The memo:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Good afternoon.

The purpose of this message is two-fold:  I want to take this opportunity to introduce myself to those of you whom I have not yet met. Secondly, I want to share information about the County’s preparations for and response to the economic downturn, in advance of the release of the Governor’s budget tomorrow.

As many of you know, I have enjoyed a 20-year career in government finance and have led Ramsey County’s Office of Budgeting & Accounting for the past eight years.  I know our county budget well and have had experience responding to a similar state budget crisis, six years ago.

My top priority as I begin my new job as County Manager is to work closely with our County Board to formulate a strategy and timeline to address expected budget reductions over the next three years.

Tomorrow’s gubernatorial budget proposal will arrive on the heels of the Governor’s decision late in December to “unallot” $4.2 million of state aid that had been promised to — and already spent by — Ramsey County.  That forced us to dip into our cash reserves to cover the shortfall.  While the good news is that the County had adequate reserves, we now will need to work to rebuild our cash reserves to help prepare us for the next unanticipated budget emergency, while at the same time addressing the financial challenges of the next two years.

We expect the Governor’s 2010-11 budget (July 2009 through June 2011) to contain even more painful news.  We still don’t know what form his proposal to close a multi-billion-dollar state budget gap will take.  It will take us some time to digest it and fashion a full response.

The County Board, department heads, and I have been diligently preparing for the economic downturn for some time.  The Board showed a lot of foresight two years ago when they moved the County to a biennial budget cycle, to better align with the State’s fiscal calendar, and implemented critical success indicators to measure how effectively our tax dollars are delivering services to the residents and businesses of Ramsey County.  We have budgeted conservatively and tightened our belts well in advance of this darkening fiscal sky.

These proactive steps will help to soften the blow, but they won’t protect us entirely.  We will be challenged to continue to deliver top-notch services to our constituents at the lowest possible cost.  We will focus on measurable results, on where we get the biggest return for the community’s money.

We will face our fiscal challenges together. I will share more information with you as it becomes available.  I will be seeking your advice and suggestions as we work together to meet this unprecedented financial challenge.  I will be asking you to focus on our assets — what we have, not what we’re missing — and how we may best deploy these assets to provide a community safety net, to maintain stability for people and businesses that are being buffeted by intense financial storms.

In meeting the financial challenges, we will be making strategic changes, not across-the-board cuts. We will focus on the goals the County Board has set for us and on the critical success indicators. We will make sustainable, systemic changes, not one-time accounting shifts or short-term — penny wise, pound foolish — choices.  And we will make these changes transparently and with regular, ongoing communication with all stakeholders — taxpayers, community partners, and employees.

I thank you for all the hard work that you do on behalf of Ramsey County and its residents.

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