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Nobles County hosts Truth in Taxation hearing

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County commissioners presented their annual Truth in Taxation public hearing Tuesday night in Worthington, but aside from about half a dozen department heads, there were no members of the public present.

The hearing lasted 25 minutes and included a recap of the county's process for developing its 2011 budget. Final adoption is slated for 9 a.m. Dec. 21 in the Nobles County Board Room.

In a budget process that began in July, commissioners have since whittled down an initial 4.9 percent levy increase proposed in September to a 2.51 percent increase slated for adoption next week.

That increase provides the county with an operational levy of $9,808,556. The county's total budget for the year is $23.4 million.

On Tuesday night, it was announced the county will continue to move forward with its plan to cut two positions and reduce hours for another two positions. The eliminations include a part-time property appraiser position in the county assessor's office and a maintenance worker at the Nobles County Government Center.

The county's emergency management director position and a technology help desk position will be cut from full-time to three-fifth's time. All of the cuts and reductions will take place by Jan. 1.

Commissioners spoke about the reduction of hours in the emergency management director's position during the meeting. Earlier this month, three community fire chiefs came to a board to encourage the county to keep the position at a full-time status.

Commissioner Diane Thier asked that a letter be sent to the three fire chiefs, explaining the county's desire to work with other counties to get a regional director. Most of the other counties in the area have a part-time emergency management director.

She also said the conversion to the new radio system doesn't need to be completed until Jan. 1, 2013 -- still two years away.

"Right now, I think they're (the fire chiefs) getting ahead of themselves a little bit and getting worried, but we have a couple of years to get this settled," she said. "That doesn't mean we quit working on it, but we could take a little time."

Commissioner Gene Foth said the current emergency management director is not certified by the manufacturers of the radio system, and the manufacturer will program the radios on a per-maintenance call.

"That will be cheaper than to maintain our safety director at a full-time level," said Foth, who also wanted to assure the fire chiefs that "we have not forgotten their request and we did hear them."

Nobles County Administrator Mel Ruppert also reiterated that the roughly $120,000 worth of cuts were made to afford a full-time deputy for the sheriff's office. The deputy position was vacant for much of 2010 because of a hiring freeze.

Ruppert led Tuesday's taxation hearing and explained the process for setting the 2011 budget. While the bottom line includes 3 percent cost of living adjustments for employees working within the county's six bargaining units, it also accounts for additional salary and benefit adjustments.

He said the county took a "three-prong approach" to the 2011 budget, looking for a reduction in expenses, realignment in revenues and an attempt to mitigate property tax increases.

Facing a 28 percent reduction in county program aid for the coming year -- it anticipates receiving $801,981 -- the county has opted to earmark those funds for future capital improvements to the county's road system and buildings.

"In 2011, the board has determined not to levy an additional 3 percent -- $235,000 -- to fund future capital improvements in the county road system," said Ruppert. "The basis is local funding is more secure and should be used to fund the operational costs and county property tax aid should go to the capital side."

Ruppert said the county will also begin to work with townships in 2011 to look for cost savings on maintenance of roads with low traffic volumes.

Tax capacity increases, property tax rate drops

Ruppert said the county's tax capacity increased by 7.5 percent for 2011. By keeping spending in check in the county, he explained, its residents will see their property tax rates drop to 42.023 percent, as compared to 44.188 percent in 2010.

More than 58 percent of the county's tax capacity value comes from agricultural land, followed by 22 percent from residential, 13 percent from commercial/industrial and less than 4 percent each from personal property, apartments and utilities/railroad.

Of the property taxes Nobles County residents pay, roughly 39 percent goes to the county, 23.7 percent to the township or city, 27 percent to school, 8 percent to state and 2 percent to the Southwest Regional Development Commission, watersheds and the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Ruppert said for every $1,000, the county keeps about $390, money that is used to pay for county services. Human services gets the biggest share at $85, followed by general government at $82; public safety at $54; corrections/jail and debt services at $51 each; highway and culture/recreation at $25 each; public health at $9; economic development at $5 and conservation of natural resources at $3.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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