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Proposed 2015 county budget: 2.8 percent levy increase included

WILLMAR –– The proposed Kandiyohi County 2015 budget takes into account the needs and expenses for next year but also prepares for future investments in infrastructure and services.

Gradually putting money away now for “big picture” projects, like a $1.4 million expansion of the landfill scheduled for 2017, will help prevent large fluctuations in the budget, said County Administrator Larry Kleindl, who presented the proposed $64 million budget to the county board during a work session Wednesday morning.

“I don’t want it to be like a heartbeat, going up and down and up and down,” said Kleindl. “I want to budget in a way that we’re consistent.”

Kleindl said a steady budget and levy would also be less of a shock to county residents who pay for the levy. “I want to be respectful of taxpayers,” he said.

If the preliminary budget is approved, the net levy would be $29.8 million, which is 2.8 percent increase over this year.

That increase is linked to a $111,000 cut in the state program aid.

Kleindl said the state told him the reason for the cut in funding was because of Kandiyohi County’s large agricultural tax base, which is growing faster than other components of the property tax base.

In 2014 the county received $1.8 in program aid. Next year it will be $1.7 million, which will be used to off-set the gross proposed budget of $31.5 million.

The proposed budget includes $12.7 million for the general fund/solid waste; $10 million for road and bridge and $8.4 million in family services.

 There are a number of factors that could increase the proposed 2015 county budget, including a bump in employee health insurance that’ll cost the county about $114,000, updating office technology and paying for the purchase of ammunition, vests and other equipment for the sheriff’s department that had been funded in the past with fees derived from a driver diversion program.

That program was terminated this spring after a judge ruled counties were not allowed to operate that program. The county is now looking to add about $128,000 to the budget fund replacement of aging squad cars.

“The local levy will have to pick that up,” said Kleindl

The sheriff’s department is also seeking to increase the number of squad cars that are replaced each year.

“These are not cars that are driven to church,” said Sheriff Dan Hartog, explaining to the Commissioners why it was important to provide deputies with the “tools” they need to do their job.

During the financial crisis the squad car replacement schedule was reduced, with 2-3 new vehicles purchased each year. This year five new vehicles were purchased.

To make sure deputies aren’t driving high-mileage cars, Hartog said the county needs to replace six squad cars each year.

Because of the transition of putting the county health department and family services department under joint operations, Director Ann Stehn said some of the 2015 budget components don’t provide an “apples to apples” comparison to 2014.

It may take at least another year before that accounting shift is made to provide a stabilized budget history to work from, she said.

While bonds for county projects will be retired soon, the commissioners are also considering new bonds to pay for long-term facility needs, like road and bridge projects and a potential new leachate management facility at the landfill that could nearly $3 million.

With low interest rates now, the Commissioners agreed borrowing money now to pay for over-due infrastructure needs could be a prudent decision.

Kleindl said the county may take a different approach to bonding and seek financing from local banks.

The Commissioners spent considerable time discussing road and bridge expenditures. They will continue that discussion during a special public works meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 8.

This was the fourth draft of the budget that Kleindl has worked through The Commissioners took no action on Wednesday.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750