WORTHINGTON — The Nobles County Board of Commissioners set the county’s preliminary “not to exceed” levy at 10% higher than last year’s on Tuesday, with the board’s consensus that the final levy will be significantly lower than that.

Counties are required to set their preliminary levy by Sept. 30, and can decrease — but not increase — it after that. The board will announce the final levy in a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 9.

“We need to be at 10% or something like that, so that we have squeeze room to go down (decreasing the levy),” said Commissioner Donald Linssen. “There’s too many variables out here yet.”

If the levy is not squeezed down, the proposed revenues to be generated from taxes would be $16.34 million, up from last year’s final levy amount of $14.86 million.

A number of factors that remain unknown at this time influenced the commissioners to set a larger preliminary levy than usual, with the provision that they will trim it down over the next few months.

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“We’re all working on trying to whittle down to that final levy amount, which will be shared the second week in December,” said Bruce Heitkamp, county administrator.

One of the most discussed issues at the meeting was health insurance for county employees, which will increase in total cost. In addition, commissioners have been examining the possibility of paying for a larger portion of the cost for employees choosing the family health insurance option, since that has been cited as an issue in exit interviews with departing employees.

“We have 182 employees, and we’ve got 93% of our people that take our single (person) insurance only,” Heitkamp said, noting that the rest are divided between employee plus children, employee plus spouse and employee plus family.

Additionally, negotiations with the seven unions with county employees are ongoing, and until agreements are finalized and signed, the costs to the county for wages, salaries and benefits will remain unknown.

Last year’s negotiations only produced a year-long agreement, as the COVID-19 pandemic meant that no one wanted to dive into long-term commitments, said Heitkamp, adding, “And everybody, to some degree, is still trying to forecast where we’ll be at from an economic standpoint.”