County’s budget up, proposed levy unchanged

Mille Lacs County’s proposed zero-percent increase in its property tax levy for 2014 is very likely to be approved as a formality during the county board’s Dec. 17 meeting.
Attendance was sparse and quiet at the board’s public-input tax meeting the evening of Dec. 3 when the board presented the planned 2014 levy and budget.
The proposed zero change in the levy accompanies a planned $3.12 million budget increase over this year’s budget of $30.68 million.
A zero percent increase in the property tax levy means the county’s levy will remain at $14,73 million to help fund the county’s proposed $33.80 million budget.
Mille Lacs County Administrator Roxy Traxler handled the budget and levy presentation at the Dec. 3 meeting and gave reasons why the county will be able to increase its budget by more than $3 million without increasing its levy.
One was that starting in 2014, Minnesota counties, cities and townships will be given a sales tax exemption, which Traxler said will mean approximately $75,000 in savings for the county. The other reason she gave is that the county will receive increased state aid in 2014 that the county will apply to wages, insurance and benefit increases.
The general wage adjustment for the county’s employees next year will be 1 percent. The county’s medical insurance increase will be at 6.5 percent and the county will have to increase its public employee retirement fund contribution for its law enforcement plan. The county also plans for reduced dues and registrations.
Under general government, the county eliminated an appraiser position in the assessor’s office, increased secretarial staff in the county attorney’s office from part time to full time, increased the contingency fund, and budgeted extra for elections in 2014.
The county’s general fund budget includes an additional social worker, grant-funded public health nurses and a grant-funded health educator in its community and veterans services department.
Budget for public works projects
The 2014 budget shows that the county’s public works will be conducting many road projects with help from government grant funding that include:
• Reconstructing an approximately four-mile stretch of County Road 4 from nearly three miles north of Princeton on the south end to County Road 12 on the north where it jogs east. The project will cost about $2.5 million and will receive $1.31 million in federal aid, according to Mille Lacs County Public Works Director Bruce Cochran.
• Safety grants totaling $338,000 for safety-related work on County Roads 117,122, 152 and 155, in which county money will also be used. The work will include rumble strips, shoulders and edge lines.
• A federal grant of $298,000 will be used in a Princeton Safe Routes to School Program. The project will mainly consist of building sidewalks along 12th Street and Fifth Avenue North in the city of Princeton to make is safer for students going to and from North Elementary and the middle school.
• Constructing a controlled intersection at Highway 95 and County Road 157 (also known as 21st Avenue) using $940,000 in federal money. This is north of Walmart where traffic has increased since the store opened last February. The state requires all options (including a roundabout) to be explored for what kind of intersection it will be including a roundabout and signal type and nothing has been decided yet on this. The surplus money is what was left over from when the city several years ago completed the extension of 21st Avenue north to Highway 95 and also constructed turn lanes at the junction with the highway.
• A $200,000 Department of Natural Resources grant will be used to make improvements on a 10-11 mile stretch of the Soo Line Trail between Onamia and Isle. The work in 2014 will include replacing culverts, and patching parts of the trail that are paved. The ultimate goal is to do further reconstruction of the trail that is open to motorized and non-motorized recreation.
Money spent by fraction
The budget presentation contained six pie graphs, including one explaining the budget expenditures by program areas in 2014. The first chart shows road and bridge with the largest budget at about $9.97 million, followed by public safety at roughly $9.25 million, then human services at $8.45 million, general government at nearly $4.34 million, debt service at $938,000, and public health at $859,169.
Traxler said that the bulk of the funding for roads and bridges comes from state aid, and not necessarily from a tax levy. Also, the bulk of revenue for human services comes from state and federal funds, and that a small part of the budget in court administration is from local levy.
The public safety expenditure budget is broken down by areas on another chart. It shows the sheriff’s department taking up 72 percent of the public safety expenses, followed by the county attorney’s office at 17 percent, probation at 10 percent and court administration at 1 percent.
The revenue
The revenue pie chart shows the property tax levy being the largest supplier for revenue for the county at 43.56 percent of all revenue. Road and bridge brings in 25.88 percent, while human services gets 14.28 percent, followed by public safety at 4.48 percent, county aid at 4.39 percent, general government at 4.35 percent, and road and bridge reserves at nearly three fourths of a percent.
Your tax dollars
Different sources of revenue are used differently and as a far as property tax funds go, 53 percent goes for public safety, 23 percent to human services, 12 percent to general government, 6 percent each to road and bridge and debt service, and just under a half percent to public health.
Funding general government
Another chart gives an idea of how general government tax dollars are to be used. It shows 20 percent budgeted for administrative services, 20 percent to building maintenance/improvements, 13 percent to the auditor/treasurer department, 11 percent to general administration, 9 percent to land services, 8 percent to libraries, 5 percent to outside agencies, 3 percent to contingency funds, and 1 percent to tax abatement.
The pie graph showing how the levy for public safety is used is very close to the chart on budgeted expenditures.