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County agrees to 6.5 percent levy increase

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- With three months remaining to fine-tune the 2013 Nobles County budget, commissioners on Tuesday set a not-to-exceed levy increase of 6.5 percent. That equates to a budget increase of $687,100 over 2012 and a total 2013 budget of $11,254,383.

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"It's a preliminary number based on the discussion we've had. Based on the final budget, that number can go down but it cannot go up," said Interim Nobles County Administrator Vijay Sethi, who served on the budget committee with Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Balster and Commissioners Marv Zylstra and Robert Demuth Jr.

Budget committee members met with department heads, all of whom had received prior instruction to maintain a budget as close as possible to the 2012 budget. The 2012 budget amounted to a 6.46 percent levy increase over 2011.

"The majority of the increases are going to be in the public works levy and the general government levy," Sethi said.

In addition to property taxes, the county anticipates receiving $554,550 in county program aid and $661,500 in wind energy production tax revenue. The wind energy revenue is based on what was received by the county in 2012, as final figures for 2013 aren't released until April. In reality, the revenue that comes in 2013 could be twice as much as what the county received in 2012, based on the additional number of wind turbines and the energy they have generated.

Sethi said the $661,500 written into the budget from wind energy revenue would be divided two ways, with $300,000 going toward county operating costs and $361,500 designated for reserves.

There was some discussion about putting more than half of the wind energy revenue into reserves.

"I'm looking at some of the uncertainties," said Commissioner and board chair David Benson, adding that he supported keeping that money in reserves.

If 100 percent of the wind energy revenue was factored into the 2013 budget, it would lower the levy increase to approximately 3 percent. Dedicating all of the revenue to reserves would lead to a 9 percent levy increase.

Among the highlights of the proposed 2013 budget are:

* Addressing capital equipment needs in Public Works. Stephen Schnieder, public works director, has proposed $696,000 for equipment, as well as additional funds to target the county road system.

"There are several pieces of large equipment that have become obsolete and resulted in significant maintenance costs," said Sethi, adding that Schnieder provided the budget committee with a priority list of equipment replacements.

As for funding for county road improvements, Schnieder has suggested transferring some funds from reserves.

"His position is we really need to start to put resources into the upgrade of county roads," Sethi said. "If we don't, it's going to take a lot more in the coming years."

* Hiring a county finance director, a GIS coordinator, building maintenance/janitor and, in community services, an account technician.

* Providing a 1.25 percent Cost of Living Adjustment to all employees.

* Setting aside $50,000 in the county library's budget for planning work on the process to construct a new library in Worthington.

* Setting a 6.5 percent increase in appropriations for the Nobles County Fair Association, Nobles County Arts Center, Nobles County Historical Society and the Small Business Development Center.

* Providing $5,000 to support an employee wellness and recognition program. The program was one of the outcomes of the management team's discussions.

A public Truth in Budgeting meeting is slated for 6 p.m. Dec. 6 to discuss the county's budget before the final levy is adopted.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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