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Preliminary Kandiyohi County, Minn., budget certified

WILLMAR — The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners certified the preliminary 2014 budget at its meeting Tuesday.

The $58.9 million budget is a slight increase over 2013 and includes a net tax levy increase of 1.17 percent.

It's the lowest levy increase in the last seven years.

"It is a balanced budget," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

While the overall county net levy will increase, Kleindl said individual county property taxes may actually go down.

The county's 2014 tax capacity rate will be at 56.660 next year, which is lower than it's been in the last couple years.

The tax rate is used as part of the complicated formula for determining property taxes, but Kleindl said the lower the rate, the better it is for property owners.

Kleindl said an increase in county program aid, which was approved this year by the Legislature, helped offset the county levy.

Under the preliminary budget, the gross tax levy is $30.8 million.

The county will receive $1.8 million in county program aid, which leaves a net levy of $29 million.

Even though the increase in state aid is welcome, Kleindl said the 2014 allocation is still lower than what the county received from 2005 through 2010. During that period the state slashed local aid as a budget-saving measure.

That action meant local units of government had to either cut budgets and services or raise local taxes. Kleindl said Kandiyohi County delayed some purchases and upgrades because of the state cuts and as a result some equipment and computer software is outdated and needs to be replaced.

The county is "grateful" for the increase, but it's "not even close to where we were at before," said Kleindl.

In 2005, Kandiyohi County received $2.1 million in state aid.

Kleindl said counties receive state aid as part of a longtime agreement to provide services that had previously been provided by the state. He said counties took on the duties in exchange for the funds.

The funds are not "gifts," said Kleindl.

In a brief explanation of the proposed budget, Kleindl said some of the increases in expenditures are because of cost-of-living salary increases, a 5 percent increase in insurance, an increase in the county and employees' share into law enforcement retirement funds and because of the new affordable health care programs like MnChoice and MNSure.

He said there are revenues to offset some of the added expenses, but the federal sequestration of funds will affect some departments, including family service revenues.

A new wheelage tax will generate new revenue for the county that will be used for county road projects that had been pushed to the back burner, he said.

Commissioner Roger Imdieke said during the last five years the county responded responsibly to the challenging economic times by keeping expenditures down, but he said it's time for the county to reinvest in needed projects in order to adequately do business and provide services the public expects.

Kleindl said new legislation that gives local units of government a break on sales tax will also help reduce expenses. But he said not all county purchases will be exempt from state sales tax. He said, for example, marked squad cars will be exempt but other law enforcement vehicles will still be taxed.

"There's such a small window of what we get exempt," said Kleindl.

Kleindl said he is recommending that the county not dip into reserves in 2014.

In other action:

- The commissioners gave Public Works Director Gary Danielson the go-ahead to continue negotiations with the West Central Antique Power Collectors organization to obtain the county's old Sno-Go snow blower for use in their display at annual power shows. The only condition the commissioners had was that the piece of equipment be returned to the county if the organization no longer wanted it.

- The commissioners approved a five-year lease with the state-operated Workforce Center for space at the county's Health and Human Services building that includes an increase of 10 cents a square foot for a new rate of $15.65 per square feet.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150