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County Board approves preliminary 2014 budget and levy

Fri, Sep 13th, 2013
Posted in All Government

By Karen Reisner

County coordinator Karen Brown had prepared two proposed budget/levy spreadsheets for the board to consider at their September 10 meeting. By law the county board must approve a preliminary budget/levy by September 15.

After a somewhat convoluted discussion, the board approved the preliminary budget for 2014 of $25,543,159 which is an 11.7 percent increase over 2013. The budget changes are primarily due to planned road and bridge projects, deferred equipment purchases, new staff at social services necessary because of federal mandates, a 1.5 percent non-union salary increase, and the Greenleafton septic system. The new staff at social services will be mostly funded, 75 percent to 100 percent, by the federal government. The Greenleafton septic system is to be funded primarily with grants with district residents picking up the rest of the cost.

It was noted that the county can levy additional monies for debt costs under the state mandated levy limits. Fillmore County could legally increase its levy by $258,298 or roughly 3 percent. The two spreadsheets considered by the board showed a levy increase of 2.1 percent ($177,000) or zero percent which would provide no change in the county levy. Both would be in compliance with the state mandate.

A discussion ensued. Commissioner Duane Bakke made it clear that the goal was to be at a zero percent increase in the levy. He continued that we can get to zero by using reserves or fund balance now or approve the 2.1 percent preliminary levy and work to zero before approving the final levy in December.

Chairman Randy Dahl insisted that he didn’t favor taking the reserves that low, which he believes could cause cash flow problems unless additional cuts or revenue are found.

Brown noted that $320,000 of fund balance was used in 2013 to keep the levy lower. The state recommends that reserves or a fund balance of 35 to 50 percent of current expenditures is maintained. Auditor/treasurer Shirl Boelter reminded the board that originally the board had said six months of operating funds should be maintained.

Commissioner Marc Prestby was in favor of approving a zero percent increase in the levy, noting that either additional revenue can be found or fund balance can be used. Dahl asked that he be shown where additional cuts can be made or where additional revenue can be found.

Bakke then said it doesn’t have to be at zero until December. That gives them three months to cut the levy to zero, directing department heads to get it done by coming up with grants or additional cuts. He said the board should make a clear statement that their plan is to get to zero.

Dahl said the county’s largest cost is labor and they had already budgeted an increase in wages of 1.5 percent, adding the only thing left is to cut capital expenditures. He insisted that county government is being run “efficiently as possible.” Dahl didn’t want them to approve a zero percent increase without showing how it can be done. He did agree that working to get to zero is a good goal.

Bakke remarked that the state did mandate levy limits, but it also allowed some exemptions in sales tax and increased state aid. The state aid for the county for 2014 is to be $758,816 which is an increase of $98,987.

Commissioner Chuck Amunrud suggested if they use more fund balance it wouldn’t put them under 35 percent of current expenditures.

A motion approving the preliminary budget as presented ($25,543,159) was approved.

Bakke then suggested they set the preliminary levy at an increase of 2.1 percent while making a loud statement that they intend to get to zero by December by directing department heads to find cuts or additional revenue. Amunrud agreed on the 2.1 percent, saying that it will give them more flexibility. He insisted, “This board will get to zero.” Commissioner Tom Kaase also seem to agree, noting the 2.1 percent increase will safeguard them against unknowns, such as what they may hear from the state in the next couple of months.

However, these arguments were turned on their head when it was noted that if they approve the 2.1 percent preliminary levy increase this day, that the blue statement property owners receive late in the fall which details your proposed property tax will reflect the 2.1 percent increase. It is the statement that clearly states ‘this is not a bill - do not pay.’ Bakke said it will not be accurate. A motion that had already been made to approve the 2.1 percent increase was then voted down. Dahl stated he still favored a 1.5 percent levy increase.

The statement property owners receive in the Spring, which is a bill, reflects the final levy numbers approved in December. The preliminary levy reflected in the blue statement can be lowered in December, but not raised.

A motion was made to approve the zero percent preliminary levy increase or a 2014 preliminary levy of $8,435,205. Department heads will still be directed to find additional revenue and/or cuts. If they aren’t found, the balance would have to come out of reserves. The board is locked into no more than a zero percent increase in the 2014 levy.

The preliminary levy of $8,435,205 equates to $404.26 per capita. If the 2.1 percent increase had been approved, it would have equated to $412.74 per capita.

Other Business In Brief

•Approval was given to sign the purchase agreement with the State of Minnesota for the land for the veterans cemetery. The closing date is to be by September 29. The board directed county attorney Brett Corson the leeway to get it done.

•A detour agreement with MnDOT for the use of CSAH 8 and CSAH 17 for next year was approved. It will be the same as the detour used this year. Two bridge projects on TH 16 are scheduled to be done south of Lanesboro, Minn.

•Approval was given to increase compensation for Work Release from $20 to $25 per day. Sheriff Daryl Jensen explained that most people on work release, if not in the immediate area, will be required to wear a GPS device for tracking. The county will pay for the device which will cost $8 per day.

•A three year joint powers agreement with the state of Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force was approved.

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