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County budget debated during truth in taxation hearing

Sheriff Dan Hartog, left, answers a question for Carroll Sarsland of Willmar during the Truth in Taxation hearing Thursday. Tribune photoby Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners were taken to task for expenditures in the proposed 2012 budget during the Truth in Taxation hearing Thursday night in Willmar.

About a dozen citizens attended the hearing, along with an equal number of county department heads. Two individuals spoke during the public hearing to voice opposition to the county's $59 million budget.

Carroll Sarsland, of New London, said although the county cut segments of the budget the end result was that the total expenditures and levy will increase next year by 2.67 percent.

He said individuals and families are cutting the total amount they spend. "Why can't the county do the same?"

Sarsland said he was tired of hearing about state unfunded mandates and that the county should work with legislators to remove mandates, "so the county board no longer has an excuse" for increasing the budget.

In fact the county has repeatedly urged legislators to lessen the local financial burden of mandates, but without much luck.

Sarsland also chastised the top officers in the county sheriff's department for driving SUV's, said the county commissioners were paid too much and said he could easily find hundreds of thousands of dollars to cut in the Health and Human Services Building.

The extra items in the budget would be great if there was money, said Sarsland, but not in the current economy.

"That's my money you're spending," he said, urging the Commissioners to "be more judicious."

Commissioner Richard Larson defended the family services budget saying 70 percent of that budget is used to keep elderly in the nursing home and another 12 percent funds mental health care.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said the county did make cuts to the budget, but said the $1 million expansion to the landfill and the mandated repairs to elevators, which cost a total of $500,000 over three years, needs to be paid for.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the county has taken steps to make changes that will have long-term financial benefits, including the elimination of 92 county employees in the last couple years. Plans are being made to consolidate departments to improve efficiency.

Gary Refsland, of Pennock, questioned the board about a $9,000 allocation to Planned Parenthood. He said it puts taxpayers in the position of paying for abortions.

That claim was soundly disputed by Commissioner Harlan Madsen who said no county funds have ever or will ever be used for abortions.

Public Health Nurse Ann Stehn explained the money came from an outside grant that was used to provide low-income women with health care, including having healthy pregnancies and contraception.

Refsland said "any form of birth control is abortion" and he reiterated his plea to eliminate the line item.

Although there had been much discussion in recent months about the elimination of the Homestead Market Value Credit and its replacement, the new Homestead Market Value Exclusion, no one from the public spoke about that issue and no one complained about their taxes.

After the hearing was formally closed but before anyone left their seats, former county commissioner Earl Larson addressed the board and public. He said it takes money to provide services yet counties and townships are the only ones raising taxes while the state and federal government aren't, adding that the top leaders aren't living up to their duties.

"Let the chips fall where they may," he said. "We shouldn't have to cover for them, should we?"

Carolyn Lange

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

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