Weather Forecast


County sets "target" for levy discussion

WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Board of Commissioners set a 4.9 percent levy increase "target" for 2011 at its meeting Tuesday, but stopped short of setting a not-to-exceed levy amount.

Once the not-to-exceed levy limit is set, the county cannot levy taxes above the percentage specified; the not-to-exceed levy must be set by Sept. 15. The levy itself is capped at $10 million.

Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert reviewed the county departments' budget requests, noting items that would significantly change each budget from its 2010 status.

Among major budget influences are an 18 percent increase in health insurance premiums, the multimillion dollar ARMER system in the public safety budget, and the uncertainty of whether $851,000 in County Program Aid will arrive from the state.

"The bigger concern this year is the goal to, if at all possible, to move the County Program Aid out of the (general fund)," Ruppert said.

"We're slowly trying to wean ourselves off of that program aid, because it's a moving target," added board chairman Marvin Zylstra. Instead, that money would be channeled to specific items in other budgets.

The county's preliminary program costs total nearly $21.7 million for 2011: $10.3 million has been requested for the general fund, $5.7 million for public works, and $5.9 million for human services.

Not filling vacant finance director and one deputy position this year will save the county money; as will reclassifying building fund revenues to the General Fund; carrying about $50,000 in unused Extension funds to next year; and using dividends from the from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, which provides insurance for properties, liabilities and worker's compensation claims. Ruppert said the county will also look into improved technologies that could increase efficiency in the assessor's office -- especially after the county's fee was questioned when their contract with the city was set for renewal.

Blue Cross Blue Shield, the health insurance provider for county employees, has raised its premiums by 18 percent, the largest increase since 2002. That means employees, for whom the insurance is mandatory, could pay anywhere from $71 to $190 more per month. Rates for 2011 range from $380 to $1,245.

High premiums have sometimes made it difficult to recruit quality employees, Ruppert said.

"Everyone wants to know: What is health insurance going to cost me?" said Sue Luing, deputy county administrator. "If they need family coverage, they nearly have a heart attack and fall on the floor when they see the cost."

While the county has more or less kept pace with premium increases, it seems unlikely it will be able or willing to absorb that large of an increase.

"Employees have to step up to the plate and take some of the hardship, because we all do. I really think $530 is really pretty good," Commissioner Diane Their said, referring to the county's monthly contribution to single or family insurance premiums.

"I'd like the board to put (covering premiums) in perspective," Ruppert said. "I'd rather keep everyone employed and providing services for the county."

Human Services Department will also add Intensive Family-Based Therapy and has secured a $40,000 contract with Southwestern Mental Health Center for those services. The move is expected to prevent or shorten expensive out-of-home placements for mentally ill children.

The board's next meeting is 9 a.m. Tuesday.