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County sets not-to-exceed levy

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a not-to-exceed levy of 8 percent, bringing the total levy to $10,593,235. The vote passed 4-1, with Thier voting in opposition to the amount. The final levy will be set in mid-December, following a public truth in taxation hearing set for 6 p.m., Dec. 8.

Of the 8 percent levy, 7.3 percent will cover the budgets of county departments. The county's overall budget for 2012 is slightly more than $26.9 million.

The levy increase does not include a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for employees, and leaves no dollars available for capital improvement projects such as construction of a new library or offices for Southwestern Mental Health Center. It will, however, include a $40,000 county contribution to fund the increase in cafeteria benefits for employees, and $300,000 for the ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) system.

While there was some discussion about taking the $300,000 for the ARMER system from reserves, County Administrator Mel Ruppert cautioned the board about taking too much out of savings. Between the cost of the ARMER system and cuts in program aid, he said the county would need to take nearly $750,000 out of reserves if they chose not to levy for the costs.

"How many times can we take things ... out of reserves?" Ruppert asked. "We have to cash flow most all of the operations -- we're obligated to fund these programs until reimbursements come in or until property tax is collected.

"I would not want the county to start to fund larger projects out of reserves," he added. "You've already earmarked some of those reserves for a land purchase for the library. You need to start levying for the true operational costs."

Commissioners Vern Leistico and Bob Demuth Jr. voiced opposition to setting money aside for a new mental health office building based on the perceived inability for the agency to make the project cash-flow.

Commissioner David Benson said Southwestern Mental Health Center is a not-for-profit agency that provides needed services in the community. He expressed disappointment in not being able to fund the project.

"It's too bad there isn't a building in this town that they could rent," added Commissioner Diane Thier. She also requested that in the coming months, the board go through the budget line by line and make adjustments and lower the levy.

"I think we deserve that, as a board, to go line by line," she said. "We used to do that before we had a budget committee."

Leistico, who served on the budget committee, responded that the board didn't need to micromanage departments.

In other action, the board:

* Discussed the city of Worthington's idea for an economic development plan to increase home construction in the city limits by enacting a tax abatement for up to five years on any new homes constructed that have a value of more than $200,000.

"I think a requirement would be that it be anywhere in the county," said Benson. "It would be difficult for me to accept the full five years. If it's not occupied for a certain period of time, I have no problem offering an abatement. Another way would be to pro-rate it. I would like to see us participate in some way."

While Demuth commended the city's ad hoc committee that worked on the tax abatement plan, he said there were 13 homes priced over $200,000 in the last real estate buyers guide published by the Daily Globe.

"If a $200,000 home stays empty for four years it's either overpriced or bad floor design," Demuth said. "(The idea) definitely needs some tweaking."

"My take is if you can afford a $250,000 home, you can afford the taxes," added Thier.

Commissioner Zylstra said he was in opposition to the entire concept.

The city has requested a meeting with both county commissioners and school board members to discuss the tax abatement issue further. A meeting date has yet to be set.

* Approved conditional use permits for Shellie Lynn to operate an extended home business in the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 10, Westside Township; for Gerald Lynch to construct a 101- by 200-foot total confinement barn in the southwest quarter of Section 4, Lorain Township; for Kent Slater to construct a 56- by 300-foot calf barn and replace a 44- by 64-foot livestock barn in the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 2, Larkin Township; and for Worthington Ag Parts to construct an 8-foot security/privacy fence in the northeast quarter of Section 34, Worthington Township.

* Accepted the low bid of $14,125 from Gary's Electric for installation of 12 new campsite pedestals with electrical outlets at Maka-Oicu County Park.

* Recognized Eileen Berger for her years of service as a jailer with Nobles County. Berger has retired from her position. Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening was granted approval to fill Berger's vacancy and authorized the hiring for a full-time temporary jailer position.

* Approved several contract renewals, as well as amendments to contracts as a result of state-enacted rate reductions for programs within Nobles County Family Services, effective Oct. 1.

* Authorized the purchase of a document scanner for Nobles County Family Services at a cost not to exceed $4,500.

* Adopted a Grade 19 pay status for a registered nursing position, and a Grade 21 pay status for a public health nursing position within the newly created Nobles County Community Services. Ruppert said plans are to hire a few individuals in select areas by early November.

* Approved a resolution marking the National Moment of Remembrance for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The moment of remembrance will be at noon on Sunday.

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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