Crow Wing County commissioners met in a workshop Tuesday to get a first look at the proposed 2013 budget.
The proposed budget has a .61 percent levy increase for 2013 for a projected tax levy $35,090,174.
The board will meet to discuss the preliminary budget on Sept. 11 and will have until Dec. 15 to certify the levy for 2013.
Administrator Tim Houle said much can change between this initial look at the proposed levy and the final version.
“It’s part of a continuing strategy to hold the line on the amount we tax local residents and we aren’t done yet,” Houle said. “(The proposed budget) reflects the good work by our departments who are listening closely to what the public is telling us.”
Houle said this type of proposed budget isn’t what historically was seen before the Great Recession.
“Our departments continue to recognize the difficult economic circumstances everyone finds themselves in,” Houle said.
Last year, the Crow Wing County Board approved a $34,876,657 tax levy out of a $72,206,482 budget for 2012, representing a tax levy with a 2.37 percent reduction compared to 2011.
In previous years, the county had a more typical 6 to 8 percent levy increase. In 2004, the increase was 6.95 percent, with the campus building project the levy increase was 34.64 percent in 2005 and there was an increase of 11.82 percent in 2006. Houle said in 2007, the year the Great Recession began, the trend was downward with a levy increase of 5.9 percent that year. For the past six years, Houle said the levy increase has averaged less than a percent each year. For the 2013 budget, Houle said the county will continue to look for additional opportunities to drive that down.
“I think there is still some work to do on the .61 percent,” he said.
A factor in this year’s budget is the proposed $15 million Law Enforcement Center (LEC) remodel or building project. While Houle said the LEC project doesn’t directly impact the tax levy as funds to pay for it are expected to come from existing fund balances — the county has about $8 million in a fund balance for capital projects and the general fund — along with savings in debt refinancing and the capital levy, it is a decision about resources. If the LEC project didn’t go forward, that could mean more money for roads, technology updates or a levy reduction.
Other drivers in the budget for 2013 include steep increases in employee health insurance rates, Houle said, noting rates represent a 24 percent increase, which means the county will be shopping around. Other costs come in staffing increases requested in financial services, the attorney’s office and sheriff’s department.
The county’s projected 2013 operating budget and capital project is $80,053,877, including the $15 million LEC.