Goodhue County levy might increaseIn a narrow vote that highlighted an ongoing disagreement over how to balance the county's 2011 budget, Goodhue County commissioners moved Tuesday to raise next year's levy by $200,000.
In a narrow vote that highlighted an ongoing disagreement over how to balance the county's 2011 budget, Goodhue County commissioners moved Tuesday to raise next year's levy by $200,000.
The increase -- roughly .77 percent over the 2010 levy -- sparked a lively discussion among county commissioners, who debated the merits of a tax hike in a time when constituents are feeling the pain of a lingering recession.
"If we are going to be serious about reducing the burden on our constituents, then we need to go back to zero on the increase," said Commissioner Ted Seifert, who with Commissioner Ron Allen voted against the proposal.
Those voting in favor stressed that cuts need to be balanced with tax increases to avoid the gutting of important county services.
Commissioner Jim Bryant recalled a recent visit to the Belvidere 4-H Club and asked fellow commissioners whether they would be willing to cut funding for similar programs to avoid any hikes to the levy.
"That's a non-mandated service that we have here and I'm not willing to cut any more out of that," he said.
Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said the increase was small in comparison to those the County Board approved in the past.
If finalized in December -- when commissioner may lower, but may not raise the levy -- the $200,000 hike would compare with a $435,000 average annual levy increase since 2002, according to Goodhue County statistics.
"Let's keep things in perspective a little bit," Rechtzigel said. "We've done a pretty remarkable job in watching the public's purse and I think we need to continue to do that."
The increase puts the county only partially on the way toward closing an estimated 2011 budget gap of $785,000, however.
Commissioners are hoping to gain at least $200,000 of that amount through concessions from county employees currently in talks with administration. Much of the rest, they hope, will come through savings on the county's health insurance rates.
County officials recently moved to seek bids on the health insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield after learning that the carrier would be increasing its rate by 17 percent next year, rather than the 10 percent previously expected.
"Hopefully one will be coming in a little less than the increase was," Goodhue County Administrator Scott Arneson said.
One other question mark hanging over the 2011 budget is how much the county will receive in state aid next year. Commissioners have budgeted for around half of the $1.7 million promised by the state, hoping to pool any excess funds to ease uncertainty over state funding in the years ahead.
"I don't know of anybody that's budgeting the full amount that's promised," Arneson said.