Putting a price on history

Published 10:07 am Friday, December 9, 2016

The Mower County board is looking to lower its proposed 2017 tax levy from a 5.69 percent increase to about 4 or 4.5 percent, but Mower County Historical Society volunteers are calling on the board to keep planned funding for the society’s building upkeep needs.

The county board and staff held the annual truth in taxation meeting on Thursday to give the public a chance to talk about the budget — set to increase to about $46.4 million — and levy — set to increase to about $20.3 million.

While the preliminary budget approved in September includes an additional $11,000 requested by the historical society, the county pegged that as one possible way to trim the levy by only adding $5,500.

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However, historical society volunteer Royce Helmbrecht spoke in favor of keeping the full $11,000, arguing the society maintains 16 buildings at the Mower County Fairgrounds and the Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Grand Meadow.

“There’s just not enough money to go around to keep those buildings maintained in a proper way,” he said.

He said the historical society needs the $11,000 for upgrades and building upkeep, especially to preserve the society’s roughly 16,000 artifacts. That requires climate control through the use air of conditioning and humidity control, which he said they can’t do without additional money.

“We’ve gotta do something to be able to keep up to speed,” he said.

One of MCHS’s largest fundraisers of the year is in Christmas in County and the annual bake sale, slated for 4-6 p.m. on Friday and 3-7 p.m. on Saturday, but Helmbrecht noted that money only goes so far.


Positions drive budget increase

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson noted the county’s proposed 5.69 percent levy increase is driven largely by staff.

The county is adding nine new positions, which is down from the original 13 new positions requested. Two and two-thirds of the new positions will be paid by federal and state dollars, but the rest are funded locally.

Oscarson said the needs are driven by increased work loads, some dictated by state programs, public safety concerns, and overall increase.

“The majority of the requests are due to just workload increases,” Oscarson said. “We’ve got more work to do.”

New positions account for a $374,060 increase.

The county is also adding a full-time metal detector at the Mower County Jail and Justice Center, but it will be doing it with two new employees with a few jailer positions and by relocating a deputy, while the county originally anticipated having to hire three people for the change.

Other factors driving the increases include:

•$325,000 for the implementation of a compensation study, which will result in an adjustment in payroll,

•$11,000 in additional funding for the Mower County Historical Society,

•$18,000 for the Mower County Soil & Water Conservation District to implement the buffer strip initiative, which is being matching by state funds,

•$5,000 in additional funds to the Mower County Senior Center.

But the county’s finance committee is looking to lower the levy increase closer to 4.5 or even 4 percent.

Some suggestions include interest income changes, service fee changes, and possible 2016 budget savings. The committee is also discussing reducing the historical society’s request, reducing the senior center’s request or using reserves to fund the SWCD’s request.

Oscarson noted the county is often faced with either increasing revenues or cutting services.

“If we don’t cut, we’ve got to come up with the money to fund all these good services we provide,” Oscarson said.

The county plans to use $450,000 in Public Works reserves to fund two road projects instead of increasing the levy to cover the local share of two projects. The county saw an increase of $186,231 in county program aid for 2017.

The county board will vote on a final budget and levy at 10 a.m. Dec. 20.