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County dips into reserves to balance budget

Fri, Dec 6th, 2002
Posted in Features

Fillmore Countys proposed 2003 budget tipped the scales at $20,849,241. That was $275,566 over projected revenues, which forced the County Board to dip into its reserves to balance the budget..

"Were going to have to do some cutting," said Chairman Duane Bakke as County Coordinator Karen Brown presented the 2003 budget packet. Having to tap into reserves before the year has started is not a situation any commissioner wants to be in.

"In the last five years, from 1999 to 2003, the property tax levy has increased 27% in Fillmore County," stated Brown in a letter to the board. "This averages 5.4% per year and is the result of several increased expenditures combined with decreased state and federal aid." Increased costs include annual double digit increases in employee health insurance, salary cost of living adjustments, rising costs of public safety due to legislative changes, increased crime, and high costs for out of home placement were the main reasons given for the budget problem. Decreased funds from Social Services, Public Health, Medicare reimbursements, and shrinking dollars for road projects have compounded the situation.

The recommendation of the state auditor is that countys keep approximately 35% of their budget in reserves. Thats $7,000,000 in Fillmores case. If "business as usual" came to an abrupt halt, the county would have this to work with temporarily. The bad news is that other items requested by departments would have to be cut from the budget, at least for a while.

Commissioner Helen Bicknese credited Brown and her department for their excellent effort in putting the budget packet together. The other commissioners quickly agreed on the quality report. The budget was approved as presented.

Copies of the 2003 county budget packet are available to the public.

County Salaries

A 2.5% cost of living raise was approved for non-union employees. The board unanimously agreed on $58,950 for the Auditor/Treasurer (basically what he gets now) and $43,860 for the County Recorder (up by $1,2850). These salaries compared with those in nine surrounding counties.

A motion by Bicknese to set the Sheriffs salary at $65,000 was defeated. A second motion passed at a salary level of $64,500 (an increase of $2,000), with Bicknese and Root voting no.

A proposal to increase commissioners salaries to $16,500 struck a nerve as Bicknese felt it was much too high as they had received a substantial increase last year. Bakke wished to see a smaller increase on the current $15,000 per year salary.

Commissioner Harry Root felt the county was getting a good buy when one compares the amount of time the commissioners put in. The $16,500 passed with Bicknese and Bakke voting no.

Other business

Chris Ingebretsen, of the SE MN Wastewater Initiative, presented information about a work plan for communities that dont have up-to-date sewers. Livestock and humans produce the two main sources of waste the Initiative is focusing on. Wastewater is treatable, reminded Ingebretsen.

"Nobody wants to run their waste into a river. The biggest issue when it comes to it is the pocketbook," said Ingebretsen. The Initiative works with small communities by speaking with their leaders and setting up a task force that can implement the project. The demographics of some communities, such as Whalan and Granger, make it tough to design a good sewer system and that is where the Initiative can help, by drawing on their resources. Ingebretsen asked the board to be as active as possible with the project.

Tom Smith, Fillmore County Jail, requested adoption of the proposed charges effective in 2003 at the jail as presented at last weeks board meeting. By keeping work release fees at a modest $20/day, it is hoped that the collection of this revenue will be relatively easy to do. The county is also looking into the possibility of inmates putting such charges on a credit card. It was noted that Winona County charges a much stiffer fee, but they have extra staff to keep up on the paperwork.

Chairman Bakke also shared a concern with the board in regard to an article published in the Winona Daily News involving our countys inmates. The article indicated that Houston, Fillmore and Wabasha counties have made a verbal commitment to house minimum-security prisoners in Winonas proposed minimum-security jail annex. Smith said this was not the case. A letter will be sent to Winona County clarifying this issue.

At last weeks board meeting Sheriff Jim Connolly asked the board to consider building a minimum-security jail of their own. Smith noted he had 18 individuals on a waiting list that must complete jail time in accordance with their sentencing. These "clients" are people that have been convicted of crimes such as D.W.I. or writing bad checks, not presently in jail and are not considered a risk on the street. Commissioner Randy Dahl showed a lot of enthusiasm for such a project. No action was taken.

John Grindeland, County Highway Engineer, requested the adoption of a resolution to request additional funding from the District 6 Area Transportation Partnership (ATP) for Lanesboros Coffee Street Walking Bridge project. Due to the difference between contractor bids and engineers estimates, a $84,000 gap needs to be filled or the historic bridge project comes to a halt. According to Grindeland reconditioning an old bridge takes a lot of labor, and must meet MPCA regulations due to the lead paint originally used on the bridge. The board gave support for the resolution.

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