County gets new direction in 2014 tax levy increase
WORTHINGTON — As Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson continues to get clarification from the State of Minnesota regarding the 2014 tax levy, he said the county could set up to a 10 percent levy increase if needed. However, a 4.19 percent levy hike would suffice to cover next year’s budget, as well as discretionary items such as two additional staff in the assessor’s office, a new vehicle in the county’s fleet and improvements to the county’s emergency operations center.
“If we stayed with all the fluff — the requests as presented — the levy would be increased 4.19 percent,” Commissioner Bob Demuth said during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Nobles County Finance Director Jerry Vyskocil said there was confusion across the state last week regarding the state-imposed 3 percent levy limit.
“What the state did is they took our budget for the last two years, backed out debt service and calculated a 3 percent cap,” explained Johnson. “Essentially we get the 2013 budget, plus the debt service.”
Johnson said the state changed its interpretation of the law in late July or early August, clarifying that the 3 percent levy cap is intended to be on general operating expenses.
“Approving a 4.19 percent not-to-exceed levy is within the guidelines of the state for a 3 percent levy limit,” he said, adding that commissioners could reduce its not-to-exceed levy prior to December’s final budget adoption.
Commissioners Marv Zylstra and Matt Widboom both questioned the potential to designate a higher levy with potential to put that money toward road and bridge improvements.
“Even though we have the wheelage tax, I think we need to be (setting aside) dollars,” Zylstra said.
Widboom asked what the county’s options are, and how money for roads and bridges is prioritized compared to some of the discretionary items budgeted — such as a new vehicle for the county’s fleet for employee use.
Commissioner Gene Metz said a 1 percent increase in the levy amounts to slightly more than $100,000.
“By setting the maximum (10 percent levy), you could raise roughly $650,000,” Metz said.
It takes approximately $200,000 to blacktop one mile of county road.
“It would be important for Mr. (Stephen) Schnieder to come in and help us prioritize,” Johnson added. “There’s endless opportunity out there, unfortunately.”
Commissioners will meet again at 3 p.m. Sept. 10 in the boardroom to set the not-to-exceed levy. The not-to-exceed levy must be set by Sept. 15.
In other action, the board:
- Approved an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to get $171,840 in bridge bonding money. The funds will be used to replace a bridge on County State Aid Highway 14. Construction began Tuesday and is anticipated to take approximately two weeks to complete. The money will cover approximately 60 percent of the cost of the project, with the remainder of the funds coming from state aid construction dollars.
- Adopted a resolution for an environmental assessment for Great River Energy to rebuild approximately four miles of transmission line, increasing from 69 kilovolts to 115 kV standards.The line is located with the city of Worthington and Lorain Township, and will connect the city’s No. 2 substation with Great River Energy’s 115 kV line in Section 6, Lorain Township. The board’s approval paves the way for a public comment period on the project.
- Was introduced to newly appointed county auditor-treasurer Beth Van Hove, who will begin her duties Monday. Van Hove will complete the term vacated by Sharon Balster, who retired June 30.
- Authorized a request for personnel in Community Services. The position of health educator will be funded entirely by a Statewide Health Improvement Plan grant, and was required as a result of Nobles County’s partnership with Cottonwood-Jackson Community Health. The individual will be hired with the stipulation that the grant begins Nov. 1 and continues for 18 months. If the grant is not renewed, the position would be cut.
- Approved the renewal of a joint powers agreement with the State of Minnesota for investigating Internet crimes against children, such as pornography and abuse.
- Approved a $2,130 annual appropriation to the Southwest Small Business Development Center for 2013. Approved a $1,000 appropriation to Ridgewater College of Willmar and Hutchinson to develop a program to train ditch viewers. There are currently just four qualified ditch viewers in the state. Ridgewater requested a $1,000 contribution from each of the counties in southwest and southern Minnesota to help get the program started. The contribution will come from the county’s ditch fund.
- Approved several contract renewals for community services.
- Presented Cathy Roos, a secretary in the Nobles County Administration office, with the August Excellence in Performance award.
- Reappointed Tim Taylor, Adrian, to the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed Board.