WORTHINGTON — Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday set the 2021 preliminary county levy at $15,290,091, representing a 4% increase over 2020. This is a not-to-exceed levy amount, meaning they will continue to work at lowering the levy increase in the coming months, but cannot increase it above 4%.

Board chairman Justin Ahlers, noting that current figures already have the county below a 4% levy increase, said he’d prefer to go with a lower amount. In previous meetings, Ahlers stated he wanted a 0% levy increase.

“We need to be very cognizant this year of the economic conditions,” Ahlers said. He was the lone commissioner to vote against the motion to set a $15,290,091 levy.

The 4% increase does not include a cost of living adjustment for county employees at this time. Step increases, however, have been factored in.

County Administrator Tom Johnson noted some concerns with the 2021 budget year, including the state’s large deficit, which could result in a reduction in county program aid (certified at $804,302) and other revenues from the state. Johnson also said the economic impact of COVID-19 remains uncertain.

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New round of CARES Act distributions discussed

After learning that nearly $1 million in CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding has been requested from businesses within Nobles County, commissioners discussed ideas to include a second round of applications and opening the program up to nonprofits. The county has $2.67 million available to allocate before Dec. 1.

Commissioners supported reopening the application process, while Widboom said he would support giving more money to the first round of applicants, as well as to nonprofits.

“The more people we can help, the better,” added Commissioner Donald Linssen.

County administration will work with administration at the city of Worthington, which is leading the application process, to develop a new timeline.

Also related to the CARES Act, commissioners approved Joint Powers Agreements between Nobles County and the city of Worthington’s Economic Development Authority (EDA); between the county, EDA and city of Rushmore; and the county, EDA and city of Round Lake.

In other business, the board:

  • Authorized a distribution of $117,000 in CARES Act funds to Nobles County for reimbursement of county expenses related to the COVID-19 response.

  • Authorized the hiring of a drainage system coordinator, a facilities maintenance worker, two correctional officers at the Prairie Justice Center and a new legal secretary in the County Attorney’s office. All five of these positions are full-time, replacing four individuals who have resigned and one who is retiring.

  • Approved the purchase of a Bobcat L28 for $41,351.60 from Jaycox Implement. The machine will be used for snow removal at the Prairie Justice Center, and can accommodate a broom, snow blower, bucket, snow plow and forks for year-round use.

  • Authorized Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder to begin the ordering process early for a tandem truck being requested in the 2021 budget. The early ordering is to counteract delays in equipping the trucks.

  • Approved two change orders for construction work on the data center inside the Nobles County Government Center. The changes amount to increased costs of $4,870.46.

  • Recognized Lori Winters, account technician, on her retirement from Nobles County after more than 29 years of service.

  • Presented the August Excellence in Performance award to Administrator Tom Johnson, Deputy Administrator Bruce Heitkamp and Community Services Director Stacie Golombiecki for leading through the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Approved the citizen appointment of Jason Kellen to the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed District board of managers and reappointment of Casey Ingenthron to the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District board of managers.

  • Approved a petition to vacate an alley on the southwest side of Panda House in downtown Worthington.

  • Approved a contract with Epoxy Co. LLC to apply a two-coat sealant to the floor of the new Prairie Justice Center garage at a cost of $14,415.30. The work will be completed in mid-October.

  • Voted 4-1, with Widboom opposed, to cancel a two-year snow removal contract for sidewalk snow removal at the PJC. The county’s maintenance staff will provide snow removal.

  • Authorized IT Director Angelo Torres to develop a proposal with cost estimates to upgrade technology in the county’s board room, as well as other spaces in county-owned buildings.