8/14/2014 10:37:00 AM County budget being set for first (preliminary) levy hike in years
by DENISE MARTIN
County Commissioners last week got a first look at what the budget and finance subcommittee has been considering for next year’s county tax levy. County elected officials and department heads have come at this with sharp pencils, said County Administrator Bruce Messelt, and “...everybody shared the pain” putting together what looks to be a 2015 budget anticipating an increase in local levy of about $355,000.
Messelt said the “mantra around here for years” has been zero levy increases and this is no longer realistic.
The county local property tax has been budgeted to bring in $31,667, 667 in the years 2009-2012 and for 2013 and 2014 the commissioners actually adopted a slight (less than one percent) decrease in this levy.
There are non-levy revenues that can be applied including grants, or upping fees, permit revenue growth, and other sources that help support the county’s o verall nearly $60 million budget. But, Messelt stressed that revenues are “flat” and other government program aids aren’t even indexed to inflation. He stated, “You can see the challenge.” Any line items that aren’t mandatory and could be carved, have been.
~ Contingency, for example, is at a relatively small $50,000 for 2015.
~ There’s a $2,000 reduction to the Historical Society, which Messelt said the Board will hear is the opposite of what society leaders asked for. The Historical Society wants the county commissioners to impose a $1 per capita fee resulting in about $55,000. Instead, the line item for 2015 is proposed to be going from $27,000 to $25,000.
~ The Lake Improvement District levy is proposed to drop by $7,500.
~ The county Ag Society that runs the county fairgrounds is slated to get $550 less in 2015 than 2014’s $13,050.
~ There were four positions budgeted in HHS in 2014 that the county ended up not needing to fill for federal healthcare reform mandates; so those are eliminated and funds will be applied elsewhere.
“We do not plan on adding any debt,” Messelt also explained of the 2015 budget levy scenario. The county supports a $4.5 million annual debt service liability.
The one and a half percent levy hike, or preliminarily set at an extra $355,390, is the first increase commissioners have reviewed in several years.
Budget and Finance Committee member Commissioner George McMahon noted this isn’t final yet. “We have work to do.”
The levy must be adopted in early September at its maximum, and a final levy is adopted in December. The second action can’t increase the September number but it can decrease that preliminary levy.
In other business last week: ~ The Board accepted a $250 donation for the Children’s Water Festival from the Rush Lake Improvement Association
~ The Board enacted revisions to the septic system ordinance that provides help for repairs and replacement of subsurface sewage treatment systems or SSTS. The revolving funding program gets paid back and money is re-distributed to qualifying applicants. This aid is “last resort” assistance and applicants need to show they’ve been denied mainstream loans.
Since 2008 there have been 44 septic systems deemed to be imminent health threats, that have been addressed through this program and 18 have been paid off in full. Loans are from a couple thousand dollars to a maximum of $15,000.
The ordinance revisions also allow for people who live within CITY limits to apply. Details are through the county Environmental Services Dept.
~ Ruthie Koelsch was appointed to fill the necessary post of community health services administrator. Deb Schumacher resigned to take a job in teaching. There was also a slide show program on the department’s efforts towards national public health “accreditation” which the commissioners were advised will help in getting grants and qualifying for programs with health-related organizations.