County tax, budget meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday; Levy increase likely to hold at 3.4 pct.

Published 10:26 am Monday, November 30, 2015

As the Mower County board approaches its annual truth in taxation meeting, it’s looking as though the county will stick close to its maximum 3.4 percent levy increase.

The county’s annual truth in taxation meeting to discuss the proposed budget and levy is at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the county board room located in the basement of the Mower County Government Center, 201 First St. NE.

The county’s finance committee had wanted to lower the levy from the maximum 3.4 percent increase approved in September, but it’s since discussed several budget amendments, including buying two fleet cars to replace two cars commonly used by Mower County Health and Human Services employees.

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“We’ve had other things come up financially,” Reinartz said. “We haven’t been able to cut that from the 3.4 [percent increase].”

The county is looking to replace two pool cars that staff use. Currently, they’ve been told not to drive a few aging cars — a 1992 Four Taurus and 2001 Taurus — outside of Austin.

The cars will either be sold at auction or used for trade in acquiring the new cars.

Today, some of the county vehicles aren’t being checked out, but county staff says that’s because a few of those vehicles aren’t reliable right now. Four of the eight vehicles would be fairly new once these two are replaced, and the county discussed possibly having six vehicles instead of eight.

The board’s preliminary 2016 levy was set at $19.25 million, an increase of $635,700 or about 3.4 percent. A variety of shifts and expenses caused the levy changes. The county is set to add an additional four and half positions, including taking one jail position from part time to full time, and it includes an assistant county attorney who started earlier this year due to the office’s workload.

Commissioner Tim Gabrielson has said a big part of the budget was gradually updating the county’s electronics and technology to avoid bigger costs in the future.

The county is also slated to give the Mower County Historical Society an additional $21,000 in 2016 for its budget, employee costs and other needs. Most of the other outside agencies that request money from the county did not ask for additional funding.

The budget also includes $230,000 for Pictometry aerial imaging technology that would be used in the Assessor’s Office, which Reinartz said will be beneficial for the assessor’s office, public works and the sheriff’s office.

The county can change the budget and lower the proposed levy increase before it approves the final budget in December, but it can’t increase the levy.

Other shifts benefited the county. For the 2015 levy, state shifts caused the county to have to make up for $323,000 less in County Program Aid, but the county is set to receive $218,898 more in aid in 2016.

The board is slated to get additional money from the wind energy production tax credit, but likely not until 2017.

Next year, the county is estimated to see an $88,374 increase in money received through the state wind production tax credit, but the county is expecting an even larger increase in 2017. That’s when it will see the benefits of the first full year of the Pleasant Valley Wind Farm, which is expected to increase Mower’s wind production fund by $400,000. The credit is based on energy production, and the county currently uses the funds in the general budget to offset the levy.

From what he’s heard, Oscarson said many counties are looking at increases of 2 to 5 percent. Mower’s 2015 levy increased by 7 percent from $17.4 million in 2014 to 18.6 million.

Ahead of the 6 p.m. meeting on the budget and levy, the county will meet at 1 p.m. for its regularly scheduled board meeting. It’s slated to discuss three conditional use permits.