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County sets 2021 preliminary levy at just .5% higher than last year

Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on most walks of life, the Mower County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday delivered some good news in a pair of different areas.

The 2021 preliminary tax levy for 2021 was set at just .5 percent more than last year at $22,691,613. The announcement of the preliminary tax levy is welcome news considering how so many areas have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, particularly on state spending.

“It’s kind of a miraculous thing given that over 40 percent of the revenue comes from the state,” said County Administrator Trish Harren.

County agencies worked to reduce expenditures given the impact COVID-19 has had on the local economy. What made things uncertain was the revenue side. Less than half (43 percent) is funded by local tax dollars while 45 percent is funded by state and federal dollars. Both state and federal governments have taken a significant hit since COVID-19 took hold, adding more questions of just how counties would be affected.

“Transportation funding comes from gas tax and people weren’t driving as much so that’s down,” Harren said. “(Revenue) also comes from sales tax and sales tax is down. We had to work really hard to reduce expenditures and then find some creative ways to supplant revenues.”

Harren said the county has hopes of getting that preliminary figure down even further, as far as perhaps a quarter of a percent.

What has helped significantly are past fiscal decisions that gave the county some room to maneuver.

The county planned for a $500,000 replenishment in cash reserves, which rebuilt cash used to retire a bond used for the construction of the Justice Center. 

“Instead of borrowing out of cash reserves, we’re actually putting money there so we’re going to start out next year $500,000 ahead,” Harren said. 

The other plus to the situation is the availability of $1 million from wind tax money dedicated to transportation spending that hasn’t been touched yet. This money is dedicated specifically for road construction and improvement and now the county can use that money for the 2021 construction budget, which brought down the levy by another four percent.

“We have spent more time on our budget this year than we ever have,” Harren said. “The finance committee met at least 20 times and we reviewed every single budget, turned over every rock. We didn’t want to spend a massive amount of reserves so we didn’t start out in a hole next year.

A budget and levy public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 1, at the Mower County Board Room.

CARES Money

The other bit of good news to come out of Tuesday’s meeting was the board approving CARES Act money for a variety of areas including $250,000 for grants dedicated to nonprofits.

Thirty-seven local entities will be gifted between $2,000 and 10,000 (the maximum).

The county received a total of 41 requests.

The board also approved a resolution dedicating $32,217.34 of additional CARES Act funding that will go directly to supporting this year’s election.

“It is supposed to go to help all of our voting jurisdictions in our county to respond more effectively to COVID,” Harren said.

At the same time, the board allocated CARES Act funds to area schools with the purpose to provide gap funding for expenses related to providing distance learning and/or expenditures incurred while responding to COVID-19.

The grants themselves were based on a $35 per student formula and include all students who live in Mower County, even if attending a district outside the county. 

Private schools and institutions were included.

To qualify, schools had to have incurred expense and then provide invoices for reimbursement.

“We are not able to fill the entire gap, but hope that we are able to make a difference,” Harren said.

CARES Act COVID-19 Relief Funds

Mower County Schools

Austin $177,986.55

Grand Meadow $15,540.11

Southland $13,722.10

Pacelli $11,445

Lyle $10,436.65

LeRoy-Ostrander $9,104

Hayfield $8,400

Stewartville $6,370

Southern Minnesota Education Consortium $4,970

Blooming Prairie $4,235
Sacred Heart (Adams) $4,095

Nexus-Gerard Family Healing $2,975

Hollendale Christian School $1,120

Non-profits and awards

YMCA Austin $10,000

Mower County Agricultural Society $10,000

St. Olaf Wee Learning Center $10,000

Mower County Seniors, Inc. $10,000

LIFE Mower County $10,000

Parenting Resource Center, Inc. $10,000

Brownsdale Volunteer Fire Department $10,000

Welcome Center $10,000

Adams Town & Country Recreation Corp. $7,500

Austin Youth Hockey $7,500

Matchbox Children’s Theatre $7,500

Austin Jr. All Star Baseball, Inc. $7,500

Mower Council for the Handicapped, Inc., $7,500

Mower County 4-H $7,500

Cedar Valley Conservation Club $7,500

Marcusen Park Baseball $7,500

Hormel Historic Home $7,500

Austin Area Commission for the Arts $7,500

Austin Area Chamber of Commerce $7,500

Discover Austin, MN $7,500

Austin Area Foundation $7,500

The Austin Symphony Orchestra $7,500

PayItForward Inc. $7,500

ServeMinnesota-America Corps Reading and Math $7,500

Friends of the Austin Library Inc. $6,000

American Legion Adams Post $5,000

Eagles Lookout Aerie 703 $5,000

Friends of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center $5,000

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1216 $5,000

Mower County Historical Society $5,000

American Legion Post 91 $5,000

Lyle American Legion Post 105 $5,000

AlAnon $2,000

Hot Meals on Wheels, Inc. $2,000

Grand Meadow Public Library $2,000

The American Legion, LeRoy $2,000

Legion Auxiliary Grand Meadow $1,000