8/23/2013 1:40:00 PM County board starts 2014 budget work
by Paul Martin
As the temperature started to rise on August 20, 25 people crammed into a room in the basement of the Government Center in Red Wing.
Key County personnel, Commissioners and reporters tried to make sense of a 2014 budget whose first draft is over $63 million. This would be a rise of $8 million from the 2013 figures because of the County's share of the cost of several major road projects, including the new Hwy 24 interchange just south of Cannon Falls, the recently approved Hwy 9 overpass over Hwy 52, and a major project on Hwy 6.
Many other costs continue to rise, including a projected extra 6% on the costs of employee health insurance. The need for a new office building, or at least major upgrades and maintenance on the existing buildings, is also not going away. County Attorney Steve Betcher noted that plans are developing to renovate the Citizens Building as a new home for the County Historical Society. This would give the County an important asset, but would not come cheap.
Andrea Benck, of the Administrative Department, showed that over half the Levy goes to the General Fund, which pays for most County services. About $1 in five goes to Health and Human Services, and about $1 in eight goes to Public Works.
There is a little good news to be factored in. The County Program Aid grant from the State will be $1.62 million. Some of the revenue from the newly approved Wheelage Tax can be applied to road costs. Also, the Legislature exempted Counties from sales tax on things they purchase. Savings from this change will probably be short of $100,000, however. For one thing, vehicle purchases fall under an excise tax, not a sales tax.
The Hard Work
The draft budget presented at this meeting would demand a Property Levy sum of $28.2 million, a rise of $1.25 million on the 2013 figure. Even if the Board were to agree to such a rise, though, that figure is impossible. State Law limits an annual levy increase to 1.75%, or $475,000. Even to those who find large $ amounts hard to understand, the meaning is clear - there is a lot of hard work to be done before the real figures can be set. A preliminary Levy must be set in September, and the final figure must be approved in December. The final figure can be less than the preliminary figure, or the same, but it must not be more than the September figure. Staff and Board will be looking for every possible economy as the deadline looms. Quipped Board Chair Dan Rechtzigel, "This is not a good time for departments to ask for extra ornaments for their Christmas trees!"
Contract for Cannon Falls Relief Road
Later on August 20, the Board approved the contract for the first stage of the new Hwy 24. The new road will run from the new Hwy 52 overpass at the south end of Cannon Falls to Hwy 25, and provide access for the new Mayo Health Facility now being built. Work will start this fall, with completion expected about August 2014. Funding is in place for the road to continue to Hwy 19 east of St. Ansgar's Church in 2016.
Work has been completed on Hwy 9 between Sogn and Dennison, and on Hwy 10 east of Zumbrota.
The bridge on 100th Avenue in Leon Township is completed and open to traffic. The new bridge on the Sogn Valley Trail west of Hwy 14 is largely complete, but the road is still closed to traffic. Bids for the 147th Avenue bridge in Roscoe Township will be opened on August 29.