WALKER -- Cass County Board voted Tuesday to set a preliminary 2004 levy at the maximum state law allows, $13,269,623 or 4.19 percent above 2003.
New construction the last year will pay for 3.5 percent of that increase, according to Chief Deputy Auditor Larry Wolfe.
Properties increasing in value the last year will pay more than the difference between 3.5 percent and 4.19 percent, meaning properties remaining the same value or having only slight increases actually will see a decrease in the amount of county property taxes billed in 2004, he added.
The proposed 2004 Cass budget calls for reducing the number of county employees by 8.5 full-time equivalent positions. Anticipated resignations and not filling some existing vacancies will mean only three people actually will be laid off under the proposed budget, according to Administrator Robert Yochum.
No contingency fund has been set aside for 2004 to cover what Wolfe estimates will be $100,000 needed to cover severance pay for workers leaving the county under retirement and resignation. This will have to be paid from fund balances, he said.
Departments where budgets would be reduced in 2004 under the proposed budget are auditor-treasurer, management information systems, purchasing, buildings and grounds, extension and environmental services.
Cass receives state funds to improve county state aid highways, those numbered 99 or lower, but receives no outside funding to improve county roads, those numbered 100 or higher.
The county board has been setting aside $350,000 in recent years to improve county roads. For 2004, the budget committee and commissioners proposed to add $400,000 to that fund, making the total county road budget $750,000.
County Engineer David Enblom said setting aside this level of county road funding for five years could enable him to pave all county roads currently carrying over 150 vehicles per day. Those include County Roads 146 (west of Highway 371), 155, 121, 114 and 165.
If the program were continued 13 years, all roads currently carrying 100 or more vehicles per day or another eight roads could be paved over 13 years, he added.
However, Enblom noted, traffic on county roads continues to escalate by 25 to 40 vehicles per day, meaning more roads than on the current list likely will carry more than 100 vehicles per day before 13 years pass.
Commissioner Rusty Lilyquist suggested the budget committee and board consider bonding during this time of low-interest rates to accelerate the program.
Cass Truth in Taxation public hearing, before the board sets a final levy and budget, will be 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at the courthouse in Walker.
Public comment also will be received at the Oct. 21 regular board meeting at the courthouse on proposed fee increases for 2004 for fees not set by statute. These included charges for copies of documents, maps and records at the courthouse, filing fees and other official services county employees provide to the public.
The board also will hold a public hearing during the Nov. 18 regular board meeting at the courthouse on proposed changes to the capital improvement plan. This plan covers anticipated new county building construction.
Cass has been bonding at the same level for annual payments of about $620,000 since the jail was built in the 1980s and paid off around 2000 to continue a building construction fund.
While a new local or regional jail is the next priority on the list, the board also is looking at an anticipated need to expand courts after about five years when Cass likely will be assigned a third sitting judge.
After a recent meeting with current Judges John P. Smith and David Harrington, capital improvement committee members Commissioners Rusty Lilyquist and Jim Dowson reported to the board Tuesday the judges favor relocating the courts to a new building adjacent or connected to a regional jail located at Ah-Gwah-Ching rather than trying to expand the existing courthouse in downtown Walker.
Also to be discussed in the Nov. 18 meeting will be future uses for the Community Resource Center at Pine River and the future building needs for the land department at Backus.
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