Position requests driving possible county budget increase

Published 11:50 am Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tax credit from Pleasant Valley wind farm could be used for property tax relief in 2016

The county board is facing some challenges in planning its 2014 budget as Health and Human Services plans to add several new employees.

The county board will set its maximum 2014 tax increase during its Sept. 10 meeting, and requests for 14 new employees from department heads are the biggest driving factor in the budget so far.

Of the 14 new position requests the board discussed Tuesday, nine are in Health and Human Services.

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“That’s a lot of new positions. We’ll have to look at that carefully, very carefully,” Board Chairman Jerry Reinartz said.

The request for nine positions in Human Services comes as no surprise. In June, the county board unanimously voted against joining a service delivery authority that would merge the department with Steele, Dodge and Waseca counties, largely because of the $1 million cost to move onto the next phase.

Human Services Director Julie Stevermer told the board then she’d be requesting about $490,000 in new staff. In June, commissioners said hiring some new employees was less of a risk than merging with Steele, Dodge and Waseca.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Tony Bennett said it’s very unlikely the board would approve all 14 positions, adding that he thinks the public often gets the wrong impression when the board sets its maximum levy. He cautioned that the board typically approves a much lower levy.

The finance committee will work to rank and prioritize budget requests and other items.

The county board is also facing restraints from levy limits approved by the state, but the board may be able to increase special levy areas — like jail operating costs — by 14 percent.

Despite limitations, budget help may be on the way. In 2016, the county board is slated to receive a significant boost in revenue from the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm. This year, Mower County is receiving more than $1.2 million through the Wind Energy Production Tax from the county’s 256 wind turbines. Pleasant Valley, the wind farm Xcel Energy plans to start constructing next year, will add about 100 more turbines. While board officials didn’t know how much additional money the new turbines would generate, Coordinator Craig Oscarson told them board he expects to first see the increase in 2016, a year after the wind farm is completed and starts producing energy in 2015.

The board could use the money for property tax relief.