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Kandiyohi County to conduct tax hearing Thursday on $60M budget

WILLMAR -- For the first time since 2004, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners will conduct a Truth-in-Taxation hearing for the proposed budget and tax levy.

The public hearing will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in the board room at the Health and Human Services building.

In recent years, the county levy increase has not been great enough to trigger a state-mandated Truth-in-Taxation hearing.

This year, however, the proposed $60 million budget includes tax revenues of $27,672,752. That's a 7 percent increase from 2008. Once state aid is considered, the tax increase is 6.8 percent.

After hearing from the public, the commissioners will consider final budget reductions at their Dec. 15 meeting. It must be certified by Dec. 31.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the current proposed budget reflects costs shifts from the federal and state governments, several public safety projects the county is undertaking and a good dose of belt-tightening that took place before the budget even got to the commissioners.

But Kleindl said county employees are still looking for additional savings that could be implemented, including consolidated purchases for the county parks. Currently each park manager makes separate purchases for cleaning supplies. Kleindl said there could be savings by ordering them in bulk along with the other county supplies.

"Those are little steps," said Kleindl, adding that there's "no magic bullet that will reduce the budget."

Because it's been a while since the county has held a Truth-in-Taxation hearing, Kleindl said people may need to be reminded about what information will be discussed and what won't be.

This hearing is strictly to provide information and take questions about the county's budget and total tax levy. Kleindl said he will give an overview of the budget, the causes for the increases and "what people are getting for their tax dollars."

For people who have questions or complaints about the market value of their homes -- that meeting was held in June.

"People get that confused," said Kleindl. And then they get frustrated because they want to discuss their personal taxes and property values. "That's a different meeting," he said.

Some of the budget increases planned for 2009 include a $624,400 bond to fund a new emergency radio network, $2 million for corrective actions and a new cell at the landfill, and a new phone system that will cost about $450,000.

On top of that, the county is picking up $455,000 for child support programs that the federal government had paid for in the past and $100,000 to pay for public defenders in parental termination cases that the state had previously paid for.

"They expect the counties to make that up," said Kleindl of the government cost shifts. "Those are some real big issues."

Because those programs have to be provided, counties have to consider increasing fees or cutting other services.

That's easier said than done.

Money could be saved by not paying overtime for snowplow operators, for example, but what if a motorist is hurt because roads were not plowed in a timely manner.

Law enforcement staff could be trimmed, but that could also impact public safety, especially in rural areas where sheriff's deputies are often the first people to respond to accidents.

Kleindl said, "People wake up in the morning and they don't have to think about the services provided to them. They just happen."

Cutting or reducing services could trim the 2009 budget and levy, but the end results could have negative effects, he said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750