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Landfill, health insurance costs cause for bulk of co. levy increase

Increased costs for the Kandiyohi County landfill are a contributing factor in the small increase for the proposed levy. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Budget requests from nearly every Kandiyohi County department were either the same, or less, than last year, resulting in a trim overall county budget and a preliminary levy increase of about 2.6 percent.

The County Board of Commissioners spent Monday morning reviewing the proposed $58.5 million budget that had already undergone nips and tucks by County Administrator Larry Kleindl, and commissioners made a few more adjustments of their own.

"Our budget is pretty darn flat," said Kleindl, adding that the proposed 2011 levy is the "third lowest levy increase in 17 years."

The 2010 levy increased 1.76 percent.

There may be some additional shifting of numbers before the preliminary budget is approved Sept. 7, but it appears most of the hard work in cutting expenditures to fit limited revenues has already been done.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said he was amazed Kleindl was able to keep the budget and levy as low as he did. That was echoed by Chairman Richard Falk who said Kleindl did a "fabulous job."

Kleindl was quick to pass the praise onto department heads who have been forced to cut staff and keep providing services with fewer resources to meet budget restrictions made even more strained by "unallotment" of state aid -- unallotment is the governor's power to reduce expenditures to prevent an anticipated budget deficit.

Kandiyohi County's state aid is being cut $468,128 next year, which is a 21.1 percent reduction from 2010. Since 2008, the county's program aid has been cut by nearly $2 million.

Rather than raise taxes to recoup the entire reduction, the county has made cuts to departments, ordered mandatory unpaid furloughs and has dipped into reserve funds. Department heads "started planning for this year's budget last year," Kleindl said.

Most departments cut their levy requests. The family services department, for example, reduced its overall budget by $58,100 and will reduce its levy by $34,000 from 2010.

But not everything can be cut, resulting in a $28.9 million levy that's approximately $760,000 higher than last year, for an increase of about 2.6 percent.

About 1 percent of that increase is because of increased health insurance for employees, Kleindl said.

Another 1 percent of the increase is because of added expenses at the sanitary landfill.

Over the next 10 years the county needs to contribute $236,000 annually to an assurance trust fund for future cleanup and closure costs of the landfill, which has underground contamination. A new pay loader to move and bury garbage is also needed at the landfill, which is estimated to cost $225,000.

The county will use planned reserves to fund construction of a new landfill cell, estimated at $1.5 million.

The county is exploring ways to utilize the landfill as a waste-to-energy source that could affect future expenses of managing the county's waste.

A big part of the landfill operation is reducing waste through the county's active recycling program. Because of success with that program, $115,000 in new equipment is needed there. The commissioners agreed to use reserve funds to buy a $34,000 forklift, but will levy taxes to fund the purchase of a new pick-up and hydraulic trailers used for collecting recyclable materials.

The revenues and expenditures for the road and bridge fund are higher than in 2010, but because of additional gas tax revenues, the local levy will be reduced by about $30,000.

Public Works Director Gary Danielson had requested $450,000 for capital expenditures to replace or refurbish road maintenance equipment that he said needs about $500,000 a year to keep pace with needs. That request was trimmed to $350,000, but the commissioners agreed to consider using 2010 reserve funds to help offset some purchases.

The cuts have not been without consequences.

Commissioner Dean Shuck said saving money by reducing the frequency of mowing ditches has resulted in dangerous driving situations on narrow county roads.

Cuts may also mean the demise of the Circle Sentencing program, a restorative justice system that is an alternative corrections program for juveniles.

While happy to see low budget requests, the commissioners were concerned that the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center had cut its budget too much by requesting $18,000 less than last year, which followed a $20,000 cut in the county contribution in 2010. They worried that making too deep a cut could harm the program, which attracts about 20,000 school children every year for environmental education.

Falk said he'd like to see the county re-direct some program funds to make improvements at county-owned lake accesses to reduce invasive species like zebra mussels and Eurasian water milfoil. He said the state is not doing anything to address those problems and the county should step in.

Carolyn Lange

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

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