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Co. certifies preliminary 2012 budget that includes tax increase

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a 2.6 percent increase in taxes and a general fund budget of $59 million for 2012.

Final action won't be taken until mid-December, but under state law, the proposed tax levy can only decrease -- it cannot be increased.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said 2.1 percent of the proposed tax increase was because of "cuts and shifts" in state funding that affects the county budget.

Most county department budgets were kept at the same funding level as this year, but state aids and credits to Kandiyohi County were reduced a total of $605,997 for 2012, resulting in the majority of the levy increase, said Kleindl.

The county kept expenditures tight and is using reserve funds to make up for part of the state funding cuts to keep taxes from increasing even more, he said. Without local budget cuts and the use of reserves, the county levy would have increased about 9 percent.

Given the current economic situation, Kleindl said he knew a 9 percent levy increase "was not going to happen."

Even though the county levy is increasing 2.6 percent, it's relatively low compared to most years.

A 17-year history of the county's budget shows the average levy increase of about 6 percent. The highest years were in 2000 when the levy increased 12.8 percent and in 2001 when it increased 14.9 percent.

The lowest increases were recorded in 2004 and 2010 when the county levy increased 1.7 percent each of those years.

The proposed $59 million budget increased $564,600 from 2011, and includes a $1.1 million expansion of the sanitary landfill. Reserves are being used to help fund that expense. Kleindl said the county will "borrow" money from itself with the promise to pay it back over the next three years.

An expensive project to complete mandated upgrades on elevators in county buildings was also revamped and spread out over three years. Breaking the job into small projects will cost the county about half as much, said Kleindl.

Some departments, such as the county attorney's office, saw an increase in their budget because they are taking over programs, like Circle Sentencing, that had been funded by other departments.

Overall, the county budget is "flat and consistent," said Kleindl, who praised the department heads for trimming their budgets while yet meeting demands of their duties.

The county's gross proposed levy for 2012 is $29,689,700, an increase of $773,200 over 2011.

Kandiyohi County will get $1,553,282 in state county program aid, which will reduce the net levy to $28,136,418.

The County Board of Commissioners also accepted proposed levy requests of $121,232 from the Housing and Redevelopment Authority and $455,000 from the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

Following a public hearing Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to allow treated effluent from a proposed sanitary sewer treatment system in Roseland Township to be discharged into County Ditch 8.

The county will not charge an outlet fee but set benefits of $4,200 for the 23.5 acres of land the Roseland sewer district purchased.

The action is contingent upon final permit approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

When completed, sewage from the 54 homes in Roseland, located in southern Kandiyohi County, will be pumped to two treatment ponds. Treated water will then be discharged into County Ditch 8.

Currently, untreated sewage is discharged into County Ditch 18A, which flows into County Ditch 8, which flows into Hawk Creek and eventually the Minnesota River.

The MPCA first informed Roseland that it was out of compliance in 2004. Efforts have been under way since then to obtain funds and permits to upgrade the system.

The project is estimated to cost $2 million.

In other action:

* The commissioners approved a "Safe and Sober" grant of $18,400 from the state Department of Public Safety. The grant is lower than in the past because crashes and serious injury crashes in the county have decreased, said County Sheriff Dan Hartog.

* Nicholas Brown, from The Nature Conservancy, gave a presentation about efforts in the region to expand and preserve prairie land. The nonprofit organization does pay assessable property taxes on land in purchases, and the land is open to the public for hunting and other uses. Some of the land is also used for agriculture, including grazing.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750