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Meeker County budget increases

LITCHFIELD -- Meeker County will add up to $2.68 million to its operating budget in 2009.

During Tuesday's regular meeting, the Meeker County Board of Commissioners approved a preliminary county budget worth $25,842,189 -- an 11.6 percent increase from the 2008 Meeker County budget.

In tandem with the budget, the county is proposing a $11,141,722 levy for 2009, which is $808,054 more than Meeker County's 2008 levy.

"I'm getting tired of throwing numbers out like this," Virnig said during a Thursday phone interview.

As in previous years, personnel costs are a large chunk of Meeker County's expenditures. In 2008, the county spent about $11.3 million on salaries, health insurance, worker's compensation and other related personnel costs. The county expects to pay about an extra $990,000 in personnel costs in 2009.

Most of the budget's 11.6 percent increase comes from a few new expenditures that have offsetting revenues or are reimbursed by other agencies. The county expects to pay $660,000 for paving County Highway 15, about $65,000 for providing a deputy to the Regional Gang Task Force, and about $220,000 in social services and public health costs for case management services for medical assistance clients. Also expected are $685,000 in road bonding and $200,000 in equipment expenses within the county highway department.

Without the additional expenses, Virnig said, the budget increase would be only about 4 percent.

Virnig said the county's 2009 proposed levy is a 7.8 percent increase from 2008. The county will receive $125,000 less in county program aid than the $1,250,000 it did in 2003. Virnig said if county aid for Meeker County had grown at the cost-of-living rate of 3 percent each year since 2003, the county would be receiving an extra $500,000 in 2009 and that would have meant less required from the county levy.

"We just don't get a lot of aid to begin with," Virnig said. " ... We're doing this on our own. There's just no help from the state or federal government."

Virnig said he also doesn't see many positive changes for the county's budget or levy in upcoming years since the state is looking at a budget deficit in 2009.

On a positive note, Virnig said, Meeker County's tax rate is decreasing due to new construction and property value increases. The county expects a 3 percent decrease in 2009 after experiencing a 3.4 percent decrease in 2008.

The Board of Commissioners will have until Dec. 15 to make changes to the proposed budget or adopt it.