Tuesday Crow Wing County commissioners voted to approve the 2010 preliminary budget and tax levy - a 2.95 percent increase or $36,221,696 from 2009.
Commissioners vote on the final levy in December. They may lower but they cannot raise the levy after adopting the preliminary levy. Commissioners discussed the budget details last week while meeting in committee and reviewed those topics Tuesday.
"This is the lowest percentage increase that we've seen in over 13 years and this is the third year in the county we'll have seen a budget of 3 percent or less," said Mike Carlson, accounting/finance manager in the auditor's office. Carlson praised departments for work on the budgets. Carlson said the budget represents the board's goal for little growth in spending.
The 2010 preliminary budget is $67,729,940. The levy, from property tax
dollars, accounts for about half of the county's revenue. Other funds come from fees for services, grants and other governmental dollars.
In comparison, the county's budget:
• In 2009 was $65,875,531 with a levy of $35,183,775.
• In 2008 was $65,392,462 with a levy of $34,165,859.
• In 2007 was $63,186,065 with a levy of $33,169,882.
• In 2006 was $60,133,456 with a levy of $31,321,860.
The county plans to reduce its staff for 2010 by 13.9 full-time equivalents. One county employee, Denny Myers, former planning and zoning enforcement officer who is currently working with the Sanitary Management District with the solid waste department, will be laid off.
The county had 485 employees in 2008 and has reduced staff by about 10 percent or about 36 employees since. About 15 employees took the early retirement incentive plan, which Carlson said is expected to save the county significant wage dollars during the next three years even with an initial spike in retirement benefits. A formula was developed for employees who were nearing retirement age, which included a maximum of one week's wages for every full year of employment, up to $15,000.
Retiree health benefits were provided to employees hired before 2004 and accrued with years of service. The county has a liability for those costs and as of Jan. 1 the Other Post Employment Benefits, or OPEB, was $32,784,518. Carlson said planning from 2007 made a difference in the liability, which likely would have been $43 million now instead of the $32.7 million without earlier action. The county is setting aside an additional $500,000 this year as it did last year for the OPEB obligation. Retiree health insurance accounts for 24.46 percent of the county's employee health/insurance 2010 budget.
In addition to department budgets, the county receives requests for funding. For 2010, total appropriation requests were for $1,388,161. For 2009, commissioners cut appropriations to a number of organizations. For 2010, appropriations were reduced 9.3 percent but funding for some areas cut in 2009 was restored.
Brainerd Lakes Area Development Inc. and the Cuyuna Range Economic Development Inc. both reduced their requests for funding by 5 percent citing the economic times. For the proposed budget, BLADC receives $47,025 and CREDI receives $21,375.
The Initiative Foundation, which saw its funding cut in half in 2009, was restored by 20 percent to a total of $8,720. Funding for the Civil Air Patrol was increased by 33.3 percent to $2,000. Crow Wing County Fair Association funding was restored by 40 percent to $10,500.
Carlson said the county has about $45 million in debt now and pays $6 million in annual debt service. Carlson said the county is working to have the debt paid off in 2024. The debt service is 16.4 percent of the county's overall levy.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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