Budgeting between a rock and hard place

Published 6:00 pm Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mower County Historical Society executive director Dustin Heckman, packs up items for storage in the Pioneer Building Thursday to prepare the building for renovation. The Historical Society is one of the county entities that could face budget cuts. — Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Story by Amanda Lillie and Jason Schoonover

While the city and county set preliminary budget levies, officials are still seeking ways to trim budgets.

Even though the county and city set preliminary budget levies, area groups aren’t necessarily free from cuts.

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Until final levies are set in December, the city and county officials will continue debating what final tax increases could look like.

While the preliminary levy increases are set, budgeting could stretch into 2011. The state of Minnesota could cut funding like Local Government Aid and County Program Aid, which would mean cities and counties would have to find more dollars in their budgets.

“If there’s more of that without any reduction of mandates and requirements, then the board either has to raise taxes in the future or cut non-mandated areas,” said County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.

Oscarson said the state has already experienced cuts of about a million dollars in the last few years. Whether that aid continues to be cut could depend on the November election.

“The governor’s election is going to tell you a lot,” Oscarson said.


While many people are calling for area leaders not to increase taxes, that could result in cuts to other areas. According to Oscarson, the public will have to live with cuts to well-liked public services. Oscarson said it’d be important for the public to know what could be at risk of being reduced.

The county board set its levy increase at 4.5 percent, but it plans for the final levy increase to be lower. According to Oscarson, a 1 percent increase equates to about $150,000 in additional funding. If the public wanted to come down to a zero increase, Oscarson said that would constitute more than $650,000 in cuts.

Oscarson said the finance committee is looking to lower the final increase to about 3 percent or below.

Some cuts have already been made, and Commissioner Ray Tucker recently noted further cuts would likely affect the public.

“The problem is that to reduce the budget from this point forward is not going to be without pain,” Tucker said.

One cut means Mower County Human Services will oversee supervised visitations instead of contracting with the Seibel Center. While the cut saves the county money, Oscarson said having social workers supervise visitation is not as secure as the Seibel Center. The change also means the Seibel Center will lose about $40,000 a year that comes in through the county’s contract, which Oscarson described as a significant loss of funds.