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The 2014 levy is final

After three failed attempts to lower it, Goodhue County Board narrowly approved a levy increase of 1.72 percent for 2014 — the maximum increase allowed by the state.

The increase passed 3-2 at a board meeting Tuesday. Commissioners Ted Seifert and Ron Allen voted in opposition.

The levy is set at $27,399,013, an increase of $462,355 over the 2013 amount, according to a staff report. The 2014 county budget is $64,323,586.

“I don’t really see that this is a spend-happy budget,” said Commissioner Richard Samuelson, who forwarded the motion for the increase. “I’m sure we’d like it to be lower, but I think that we would pay for that in the long run.”

Prior to the vote, Allen voiced concern over some of the purchases budgeted in the 2014 capital plan, including a $40,000 generator requested by Public Works to pump gas in case of power outages. Although most of the purchases were in the capital plan since August, Allen said many of them were not adequately discussed by the board.

Commissioner Jim Bryant then proposed a friendly amendment to the motion to drop the levy increase to an even 1 percent.

“I’m not going to tell you exactly what to cut,” Bryant said. “We have an administrator and a wonderful staff that works on the budget, but I think there are some things we can explore.”

Board Chair Dan Rechtzigel, who seconded Samuelson’s motion, said he would be open to the proposal, but Samuelson rejected it. Bryant then forwarded and Rechtzigel seconded an official amendment for a 1 percent levy increase, but it failed by a 3-2 vote.

Seifert responded by forwarding another amendment to reduce the increase to 0 percent, pointing to cost savings and revenue coming into the county next year that could have been used to offset budget increases in place of the levy.

“I think we owe it to our constituents out there not to put that increase on them,” Seifert said. The amendment was seconded by Allen. He and Seifert were the only yes votes, causing it to fail 2-3.

The lion’s share of the levy — just over $15 million — will go to the county’s general fund, which has a budgeted expenditure of $24 million for 2014, according to a staff report. The next highest shares are Health and Human Services and Public Works at around $5.4 million and $3.2 million respectively.

County Board set a preliminary levy increase of 1.72 percent in September. At the time, even with the highest levy increase allowed by Minnesota statute, the proposed levy left a budget shortfall of around $260,000.

The budget was since revised to reflect additional revenue and costs from detainee boarding contracts with the Department of Corrections, privatizing the county’s Mental Health Center, staff resignations and retirements and adjustments to the capital plan, County Administrator Scott Arneson said.

“When you have a budget this big, and your overall levy increase is 1.72 percent and the actual budget increase is less than a percent, I think it’s pretty responsible,” Arneson said.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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