Nobles County sets 5.69 percent not-to-exceed levy
WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County commissioners set the 2014 not-to-exceed levy at 5.69 percent during a special afternoon board meeting Tuesday. They have until December to lower the levy if they choose, but can't levy more than the amount now set.
A 5.69 percent levy increase over the 2013 levy means that the county will increase its revenues in 2014 to $10,218,526. Adding in the county's bonds and indebtedness of $1,246,608, it equates to a total proposed payable 2014 levy of $11,565,134.
Both the not-to-exceed levy and the 2014 budget were approved on a 4-1 vote, with commissioners Gene Metz, Bob Demuth Jr., Don Linssen and Matt Widboom in favor, and Marv Zylstra opposed.
The not-to-exceed 5.69 percent levy increase is 1.5 percent more than the 4.19 percent levy previously discussed -- a levy that would have met all of the discretionary items identified in the 2014 budget, such as adding staff in the assessor's office, building a new public works shop in Adrian and adding a garage onto Prairie Justice Center in Worthington.
The reason for the higher levy: gaining ground on the county's transportation system. Despite getting an additional $200,000 in wheelage tax revenue starting in 2014, the county is hoping to dedicate more funds from the levy toward roads and bridges.
Prior to discussion about the levy increase, board chair Demuth was concerned about the "sticker shock" the public could have when they see the 4.19 percent levy increase, especially in light of the city of Worthington's decision to set a 1.3 percent levy increase during its meeting Monday night.
"I have a concern sending that high number out," Demuth said.
Zylstra wasn't as concerned about the 4.19 percent figure, realizing that it can still be reduced by cutting some of the discretionary items out of the budget.
"This is the not-to-exceed levy, but that doesn't mean that all these departments -- that their budgets are approved at the level requested," Zylstra said.
Metz was the one to suggest the county choose a slightly higher not-to-exceed levy, in hopes that more funding could be dedicated to roads and bridges in the county.
"I know it's not popular, but we're putting it toward infrastructure updates," Metz said. "I think that's more feasible to ask for than overhead expenses."
Widboom said he agreed with Metz's suggestion of a 5.69 percent levy increase.
"I think, longer range, we'd be better off to allow ourselves as much room as possible," Widboom said. Earlier in the discussion, he said, "I struggle with cutting discretionary items to fund roads, when we could fund roads without having to cut. We're not going to correct the problem in one move."
Zylstra said that for nine years, the county dedicated 3 percent of the levy to roads and bridges. Now, with the anticipated $200,000 in revenues from the wheelage tax in 2014, it wouldn't take much to get back to that $300,000 in dedicated funds.
Each percent increase on the levy equates to little more than $100,000.
Zylstra said those funds could be taken from the public works shop in Adrian -- a project that could be delayed for another year.
"We're not on pace to maintain what we have, never mind rebuild anything," Widboom responded. "In my opinion, the more aggressive we are, the better, long range."
While Linssen said he wasn't "real comfortable" with a 5.69 percent levy increase, he acknowledged it was a starting point. He wasn't necessarily in favor of forgoing the Adrian public works shop, however.
"In reality, the equipment we're trying to put in there is valuable equipment, also," Linssen said. "It's not going to be any cheaper to build that shop in two or three years than it is today."
The board has until the end of December to finalize the budget and set its final levy, and Demuth wants the public to understand that the percentage of levy increase could be lowered.
Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said the board will continue to hear presentations during the next two months regarding budget issues.