WALKER — Cass County commissioners Tuesday set a variety of 2014 rates, including the levy, which will remain $20,046,613, the same as the last six years.
Administrator Robert Yochum informed the board Cass and all but three of eight neighboring counties will levy the same or lower amounts in 2014 as 2013. Only Morrison with a 2.3 percent increase and Itasca and Hubbard with 4.6 percent increases will raise their rates in 2014.
Statewide, 66 of Minnesota’s 87 counties will raise their levies in 2014, with the highest increase being a 14.5 percent in Clearwater County.
Cass’s tax rate, the multiplier by which property taxes are computed, will go up about 2.4 percent in 2014 to generate the same dollars, because the total county property valuation has declined in the last year.
That rate still is the lowest rate compared with Cass’s eight immediate neighbors at 30.994 percent. The highest neighboring rate for 2014 will be Wadena County’s 91.87 percent. Crow Wing’s rate is 35.286 percent.
Cass commissioners declined to raise their own pay in 2014. They gave employees a 2.5 percent raise, plus a step increase (equal to about 3 percent) for those who have been employed less than 10 years.
Commissioners were paid a $24,326 annual salary in 2009, but they reduced that to $23,596 in 2010. It has remained there each year since then. Commissioners are also paid $75 per diem for each meeting attended, with the exception of the first meeting each month for which they receive no per diem.
That salary was about average for neighboring counties in 2013. Some neighboring counties pay a higher salary, but no or lower per diems.
Some neighbors pay a higher salary to the board chair, which Cass does not.
The board approved a 2.5 percent raise for the county’s three elected officials. None of those officials will receive a step increase in 2014, because all are at the top (Step 10) of the county pay scale.
The county attorney’s annual pay will be $112,403. The sheriff’s pay will be $96,949. The recorder’s pay will be $70,034.
The commissioners authorized continuing to pay board appointees to committees and commissions $75 per meeting, plus mileage. This includes citizen and board representative appointees. By state statute, appointees to the civil service commission cannot receive pay, but do receive mileage.
Cass will pay employees who use their own vehicle for county business the 2014 IRS mileage rate of 56 cents per mile when a county car is unavailable. If a county car is available, but employees choose to use their own vehicle, the county pays instead 28 cents per mile.
The board approved $1,366,025 worth of new equipment purchases for 2014, with the vast majority of those purchases being for computer equipment and software.
The sheriff is authorized to buy six new squad vehicles. The highway department is scheduled to buy a trailer and loader backhoe, plus add $440,818 to a fund for future equipment purchases. Health, human and veterans services was authorized to spend $38,000 on replacement vehicles. The land department was authorized to spend $25,000 on vehicle replacements.
Central Services Director Tim Richardson obtained board approval for a list of $100,000 worth of courthouse building improvements for 2014.
Those include water isolation valves for the jail, separating the lines for the lawn sprinkler system (bypasses water softener, gets separate meter to avoid sewer charges), remove crumbling old courthouse brick chimney, repair/replace fresh air dampers that freeze in winter, remove wallpaper and repaint, upgrade lighting, replace/repair deteriorated sidewalks and retaining walls and reinsulate damaged piping.
The board approved spending about $25,000 to install electric baseboard heaters in the health, human and veterans services building addition.
Heating in that addition comes only from ceiling air ducts. Once cubicles were installed in offices when the building was new, it became apparent heat failed to circulate into the separated office spaces.
Originally, the plan was to connect furnace hot water heat lines to baseboard heaters, but Richardson told the board he has since learned that if one of two boilers failed in that building the remaining boiler would be insufficient to heat the entire building with the added baseboard lines. Also cost for that would have run $60,000.
The commissioners approved increasing the rate the county charges for home nursing visits by a county health nurse from $165 per hour to $170 per hour.
They also set the rate the county charges townships, municipalities and others for services of county highway equipment with a driver at a flat $100 per hour. Previously, the county had differentiated between $85 per hour if the employee was working regular time, versus $100 for when the employee was working on overtime pay.
County Engineer David Enblom said the change will simplify billing from his office.
Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe informed the board the county’s current system to levy annually to cover the cost of benefits payments for employees and retirees is working well.
He also presented projected figures which anticipate the county’s costs for benefits will increase from the current $1,228,067 in 2014 to $2,674,648 by 2042, then begin declining annually thereafter. That is because since 2008, the county has phased out retiree benefits for employees newly hired since that year.
The board made annual appointments to committees and commissions. The commissioners tabled an appointment to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Business Council and to the Camp Ripley Advisory Board, because
Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk reported neither group had held a meeting since he became a commissioner three years ago.
Three vacancies remain, for which any county resident can apply by obtaining an application from the county website, www.co.cass.mn.us.
Those are representative to Bi-County Community Action Program (Bi-CAP) Board, FEMA Food Shelf Board (which is under Bi-CAP), and an alternate to the planning commission.
In response to discussion at the Dec. 10 Association of Minnesota Counties meeting the commissioners attended, they passed a resolution Tuesday to “support the need for a long range comprehensive transportation investment plan that is multi modal, includes all jurisdictions, is indexed for future inflation and addresses the varying needs across the state” ... ” and “urges the 2014 Minnesota State Legislature to pass and the governor to sign a bill that provides for this long range comprehensive transportation system investment.” Commissioner Jeff Peterson voted against the resolution, expressing concern that it was open ended and could lead legislators to think the board supports limitless spending for highways.