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Budget, levy taking shape

Goodhue County staff are in the throes of crunching numbers for the 2009 budget and tax levy.

Commissioners on Tuesday were brought up to speed by Finance Director Carolyn Holmsten and administrative assistant Andrea Benck.

"We're still pulling it all together," Benck said. "We don't have that clear picture yet."

The county adopted a two-year budget cycle in 2007, allowing them to plan ahead.

As of late last year, the board was looking at a preliminary levy increase of 9 percent in 2009.

Commissioners have already vowed to whittle away at that number, and are beginning to take steps to ease the pain on taxpayers.

On Tuesday, the board voted down Land-Use Management Director Lisa Hanni's request to fill a recorder clerk position, a job left vacant last month, but one Hanni called essential.

Commissioners asked Hanni to go back to the drawing board and bring them back other options for filling the position.

"The economy isn't that great," Commissioner Jim Bryant told Hanni. "Let's just take a step back and look at things. That's all I'm saying."

More concrete budget and levy numbers will be available this summer, officials said, when commissioners hold their annual workshop Aug. 12.

The board will discuss the revised 2009 budget in September and establish the preliminary levy.

Holmsten said the preliminary 9 percent levy hike can be misleading, especially since it was created last year and hundreds of thousands of dollars have likely already been shaved off.

Big drivers behind the budget -- and consequently the levy -- are health insurance and projects in the capital plan, Holmsten said.

Questions also still remain regarding the 800 Mhz radio project. Officials are trying to determine a timeline for radio equipment payments. The 2009 budget currently assumes a $500,000 bond payment for the project. Whether that stays in the budget is unclear.

"Those things are still in the development stages," Holmsten said. "But I'd be very skeptical to say there would be a huge change in the levy based on 800 Mhz."

While the budget picture is still emerging, commissioners urged staff members to do what they can

to spread out bond payments to keep the levy consistent.

Benck said a lot of number juggling will take place over the next few months to do just that.

"As long as taxes that people pay are consistent, they understand and know what to pay and they can budget for that," Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel said. "The roller coaster thing is the problem. People like that steady tax rate."