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Meeker County levy to increase 6.9 percent in 2010

LITCHFIELD -- The Meeker County levy will increase 6.9 percent next year, but the proposed budget will be decreasing.

At their board meeting Tuesday, the Meeker County Board of Commissioners certified a net levy of $11.9 million levy, which is $772,047 more than this year. The proposed budget is $25.4 million, which is about $410,000 less than this year.

The budget reductions and levy increases were necessary because of a $350,000 unallotment of program aid and a $90,000 reduction in the block grant to family services. The family services reserve fund will be tapped to make up for the $350,000 in unallotment, said Administrator Paul Virnig. The commissioners were not happy about raising taxes, he said, but the county has worked very hard to maintain state mandated services with less state money.

"They keep telling us to do the same, or more, with less," said Virnig, who predicted the unallotment will have an even hard hit for counties in 2011. "They'll keep hammering on us," he said.

Non-union employees will not be receiving a cost-of-living increase in 2010 and Virnig said he's hoping union employees will be willing to open up contracts to make adjustments to their scheduled 3 percent increase. Major changes to the budget include a $1.5 million reduction in the road and bridge fund. Virnig said 2009 was a busier year than normal and the 2010 budget will be in line with average expenditures. The family service budget will increase by about $750,000 because of increased demand for mandatory services for elderly, people with disabilities, vulnerable adults, child protection and out-of-home placement of children.

The increase in the budget and levy is not because of income maintenance programs, which Virnig said most people consider "welfare" programs. The income maintenance program has had about 10 workers for the last decade. The social services program, however, has grown from 8-10 workers a decade ago to 22 employees now.

The budget also includes $320,000 increase in debt service for the new 800 MHz emergency radio system, about $180,000 in additional staff for law enforcement for Watkins and in the assessor's office for the city of Litchfield. Those services are contracted and the county will recoup those expenses, said Virnig.

The commissioners agreed to offer an early-retirement option to eligible employees. The one-time offer is designed to save the county money by encouraging long-time employees on the higher end of the pay scale to retire. They could be replaced by entry-level employees, or not replaced at all, said Virnig.

Eligible employees who accept the offer will receive $3,000 to $9,000 in the medical savings account, depending on the length of their employment.

"We have great employees and we love them," said Virnig. But the option would no doubt save the county money.

There are 8-10 employees eligible. They must decide in October whether to act on the offer.

Carolyn Lange

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

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