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County budget close to being balanced

WORTHINGTON — When Nobles County commissioners sat down earlier this week to go over the 2014 budget, they believed cuts needed to be made.

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Because of data sent out by the state, the county believed the levy was capped at $10,147,812. That meant approximately $400,000 would have to be cut.

“It was black and white,” said Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson. “It said, here is your number. Period. That’s what the communication said.”

However, Johnson said new information has virtually wiped out that number.

“We were told that there is an exception,” Johnson said. “In following up with that, special levies can be added up on top of that. (Finance Director) Jerry (Vyskocil) and I are looking into what that means. We think it’s the general obligation bonds for the justice center — that’s what we believe could be added on top.”

Those bonds of about $600,000 would not count toward the state-imposed levy limit.

“We think with this, it could be balanced,” Johnson said. “What we’re going to do is Tuesday we’re going to have another budget review work session. We’re required to do our not-to-exceed levy by Sept. 15, so we’re going to have a special meeting on Sept. 10 because all five commissioners are going to be in town anyway.

“This coming Tuesday will be more of a work session and a non-decision session,” Johnson continued. “They will give Jerry and I the guidance with what they want to see for a final number now that we have some flexibility on what that number is. We will have the information on Tuesday on what this statute allows us to do.”

According to Eric Willette, Research Director for Property Tax Division for the Minnesota Department of Revenue, other cities and counties have inquired about the limits.

“Certainly there have been some questions that we’ve had to field from cities and counties about how the levy limits work when we sent the information out,” Willette said. “We do that all the time when we send out instructions or information; there is often calls we get from local officials to make sure they understand it right. Certainly that happened in this case.”

He said some of the questions have come from the way the numbers were drafted. 

“I think what the issue was because of the way the levy limits were drafted, they were drafted different than levy limits in past years,” Willette said. “I think the numbers we eventually calculated and came out with were a little bit different than what some people were expecting. I think that’s where a lot of the questions came from.”

Willette said the levy limit is split into two pieces, the general purpose levy and the special levy. The special levy is not bound by levy limits. That includes economic development abatement, storm sewer improvements, debt services and disaster levies.

“The number we just posted a few days ago is the limited part of the levy,” Willette said. “The limited part of the city or counties levy can’t go higher than the numbers we sent them. The numbers they have now is the limit on how high their levy can go for everything other than debt and a couple other special levies in the law.” 

While this gives the county some breathing room, Johnson said that won’t mean the checkbook will be opened up.

“I think we’ll be able to get the necessary projects back on without too much effort, and we’ll still hold the expenses because we’re not just going to open up the book just because we can,” he said. “I would honestly expect we would still be within some short shot of that 3 percent. I can’t imagine us going much over 3 percent.

“I think the projects will get back on the books and we can keep getting caught up on some of our infrastructure,” he added. “If we would have had to cut, our infrastructure would just get delayed another year.”

Luckily, the county still has time before the final not-to-exceed number has to be set. 

“There’s two really good things about it,” Johnson said. “One is we didn’t over budget assuming that the state wasn’t doing something right, so we don’t have to cut further. It’s well before the not-to-exceed, so we can adjust. We have a week to adjust.”

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.