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County hit by levy limit

WORTHINGTON — Information released Monday by the State of Minnesota shows that many counties who were expecting to work with a state-imposed 3 percent levy limit in 2014 will actually have to rely on fewer dollars than previously thought.

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During a special six-hour budget session Tuesday, Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson told commissioners that Nobles is among 57 of the state’s 87 counties that will be required to implement a no-net-gain property tax levy. Johnson said two-thirds of Minnesota’s cities are in the same boat, including Worthington.

The calculated levy limit for Nobles County for 2014 was set at $10,147,812 — less than the county’s certified levy in each of 2012 and 2013. In those cases, the state said the greater amount will need to be used for the 2014 levy.

In the case of Nobles County, the property tax levy limit will remain the same as it was in 2013 — at $10,942,427.

The county’s proposed 2014 budget, as presented Tuesday, was $30,373,920, up from this year’s $27,819,216 budget. The property tax levy, meanwhile, was slated to increase from $10.9 million to more than $11.3 million.

Now, the county will need to crunch numbers further — to the tune of about $400,000.

“I can’t imagine this isn’t going to be a problem for many counties and cities,” Johnson said. “It will certainly have an impact.”

While the county anticipates an additional $30,000 in county program aid for 2014, the inability to increase the levy ultimately adds up to a zero increase on the overall budget, Johnson said.

Tuesday’s session did not include any action on department requests, but was simply a time for commissioners to look through the numbers, ask questions and determine how to move forward.

“Any recommendations will be put in the budget for final discussion next Tuesday,” Johnson said. Tuesday will be a regularly scheduled board meeting day for commissioners and will include, as an agenda item, the initial adoption of the county’s not-to-exceed levy.

“In a way, (the state) kind of did our homework — they’re telling us what we can do,” said Commissioner Marv Zylstra.

Notable items under consideration in the 2014 budget are:

  • A 2 percent cost of living adjustment for employees in each department, except for the board of commissioners. Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $17,500 — their last pay raise coming in 2010.
  • There was discussion Tuesday about keeping up with inflation and not wanting to raise the salary significantly after several years without pay raises. Johnson said the salaries can be discussed further at the next board meeting.
  • The requested 36 percent increase in the county assessor’s budget to hire two additional property appraisers. County Assessor Joe Udermann had requested the two positions in July, but commissioners have tabled action on the request.
  • A requested expenditure of $80,000 from Emergency Management for upgrades to the county’s emergency operations center in the Farmer’s Room of the Nobles County Government Center. The expenses are for updates to the room, equipment and furniture.
  • Replacement of a county car, with plans to purchase a mini-van for use by the community services department. Johnson said this would be a pilot project this year, with the potential to take another vehicle from the county’s five-car fleet for designated use by the department.
  • A 5 percent increase in the Veterans Service Office, due primarily to the increase in hours of the VSO from three-fifths to four-fifths time.
  • A 2.67 percent increase in the Extension budget, due to an increase in hours for the administrative secretary from three-fifths to four-fifths.
  • A 2.41 percent budget increase in the county attorney’s office, a 1.4 percent increase in the sheriff’s department budget and a slightly reduced public works budget.
  • The need to increase the expense budget in courts, due to the high number of cases requiring a court-appointed attorney.
  • A requested $7,200 increase in appropriation to Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. The county’s contribution has been $32,000 — the request is to increase it to $39,200.
  • A reduction in the anticipated dividend paid by the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust. The county had budgeted a $250,000 dividend for this year, but will get only $167,000. Johnson said he budgeted a $125,000 dividend in 2014.
  • A 3.55 percent increase in community services — primarily due to an additional staff member needed once the Affordable Care Act is implemented, as well as unknown costs associated with out-of-home placements.
  • Increases in appropriation requests from the Nobles County Historical Society (from $28,000 to $30,000); the Nobles County Fair Association (from $22,221 to $25,000); the Nobles County Art Center (from $7,131 to $11,000); and the Civil Air Patrol (from $1,000 to $1,200).

After the meeting, Johnson said the county will look at all areas of its budget for cost savings, with the exception of cutting staff or the cost of living adjustment.

“We have to keep our staff,” he said. “I don’t know of a single department that’s overstaffed, In fact, I don’t know of a single department that couldn’t keep more people busy. It’s important that we take care of our staff.”

Johnson said debt service will be looked at to see if there are opportunities to save money by refunding and refinancing bonds. Also, discretionary spending will be evaluated.

“We’ll look at almost everything,” he said, adding that it will be “pretty hard” to justify new staff in any department when expenses have to be cut.

“There’s a few discretionary dollars in building projects,” Johnson said. “You don’t want those to get too far behind, but when you have to cut money, you can generally put (projects) off for another year.”

New revenues will be added into the budget that were overlooked, including the repayments that will start in October from the loan provided to the Southwestern Mental Health Center.

Following next Tuesday’s action on the not-to-exceed levy, Johnson said commissioners will continue to work on the budget. A budget will need to be ratified by early December.

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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