Truth in Taxation hearing proposes levy increase of 9.742 percent

Published 11:52 am Saturday, December 8, 2018

Thursday night’s Truth in Taxation hearing allowed residents to voice their opinions and concerns regarding the proposed county budget and levy.

For 2019, Mower County Board proposed a total budget of $59,560,503 with a levy of $22,854,861. From the proposed levy, if approved, would result in an average 9.742 percent increase, according to Craig Oscarson, county coordinator.

“Based on rising interest rates, we are proposing to increase our interest income budget for our investment portfolio from $525,000 to $800,000,” Oscarson stated. “Tonight’s meeting is for the county board and staff to present the proposed 2019 budget and associated tax levy and to receive input from the public. Your input tonight or priority to adoption of the final budget and tax levy is encouraged and welcome.”

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There were a few residents who came to speak of their disapproval for the proposed increases and were upset with potential spending for projects that they considered “unnecessary.”

“Why do we think that’s necessary?” asked Jim Hartson, who said he attended every Truth in Taxation Hearing for the past 30 years. “The decisions you’re making are unsustainable.”

However, Oscarson was quick to point out that many of the proposed things on the budget were necessary, and some cuts cannot be made because they were federally funded programs or that there was a need for more hires in Human Services and the Mower County Jail.

“We have to do our jobs to provide these services,” Oscarson said to Hartson.

Much of the proposed county budget was driven by a number of changes that will result in increases to the county’s expenses, including:

•The new 2018 compensation study, which established appropriate pay ranges for hard to fill positions such as public health nurses and detention deputies at the Mower County Jail, along with a complete review of the county pay grades to established markets. An estimated budget increase to implement the study was $500,000.

•General wage increases of 2.5 percent for county employees.

•$234,963 for 2.4 additional employees, a GIS intern position and overtime in lieu of one additional staff request.

•Sheriff’s Office requested adding one deputy for transport needs because of overtime budget issues, and the recommendation to add $100,000 to the 2019 reserve contingency budget and request the new county administrator study client transportation needs for all departments.

•$50,000 for the recreation center project being undertaken by the city toward an indoor playground, under the stipulation that the playground would be free and accessible to all Mower County children.

•$60,000 for the Grow Austin economic development initiative.

•An increase of $260,000 in Corrections budget for placing clients, and the increase is based on increases in client numbers and costs per placement. The increase changes this budget item from $940,000 per year to $1.2 million annually.

•$47,854 for tax software support, which has been an ongoing contract and left out of the 2018 budget.

•$5,000 to assist in funding the 2019 Governor’s Pheasant Opener in Mower County.

•Various shifts and reductions in Health and Human Services department programs.

•A state cost shift and or reduction of $53,197 for the MN Choices program from the state budget to the county budget.

•A cost shift and or reduction of $108,000 for guardian services for clients with persistent mental health diagnosis. Before, this cost was a grant eligible expense under the Adult Mental Health grant.

•An estimated cost shift and or loss of $65,000 of federal MA funding for clients in children’s mental health and residential treatment centers.

•An estimated reduction of $21,000 in state children support incentive money caused by decreased federal funding.

Among some points of interest in the upcoming 2019 budget would be the county proposing to reallocate $365,000 of wind revenue from the general fund budget to the Capital Projects budget. Oscarson shared that tehre had been a concern in the prior legislative sessions that the state may pass legislation to take wind funds to help balance the state budget.

“By moving some of the wind revenues to the capital projects budget, the county is simply providing a little more stability to the general fund with this budget move,” Oscarson said. “Which, also results in transferring the tax levy for the capital projects fund to the general fund. At the end of the day, this has no result on the proposed tax levy.”

There was also the proposal to “dip forward” four additional years into the ten year sales tax for the road construction program. According to Oscarson, the county will “use reserves in the amount of $6 million for those additional projects and replenish the reserves with years five through eight of sales tax revenues.”

“If the budget item is approved, the county will then have committed the first eight years of sales tax income for $12 million worth of additional road projects in a two-year period,” Oscarson said. “This method of ‘front ending’ additional road construction expenditures with a longer term revenue stream was well received by the public in 2018.”

The final budget and levy will be approved on Dec. 18 at the next county board meeting.