By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
The Morrison County Commissioners approved the 2013 preliminary levy and budget Tuesday with the understanding that more work needs to be done before a final levy and budget are approved in December.
“We have a lot of unknowns yet, including union negotiations yet this year,” said Morrison County Finance Director Steve Messerschmidt.
“This is a preliminary levy and budget,” said Commissioner Jeff Schilling. “We’re working on getting it to zero if we can. It’s a challenge when everything keeps going up, such as fuel costs and equipment.”
County Administrator Deb Gruber pointed out that the Regional Rail Authority levy is now included in the general county levy.
“There is a net zero for the taxpayer — taxpayers will not pay any more for that purpose — but the amount is now listed under the county levy so that will change the total. Taxpayers will not see the Regional Rail Authority on their tax statement now,” said Gruber.
“We would like to see the levy go down more and we have the time to do it,” said Commissioner Duane Johnson.
“We set it at 2.89 percent for wiggle room,” said Commissioner Tom Wenzel. “We want to thank department heads and staff for the dedicated work they do to bring the final amount down.”
“We’ve reduced staff, made good labor contracts and had good business practices by various departments,” said Gruber. “We will look closer to see if we can make other cuts.”
“We have been very frugal with county dollars,” said Commissioner Rich Collins. “In three of the last four years the change was zero. In 2010, the increase was only 1.5 percent because of a federal mandate for the 800 megahertz radio system.”
“We’ve been extremely conservative with salaries, looking at other businesses and industries for comparison,” said Commissioner Don Meyer. “We tried to be responsible.”
“We realize the property tax burden residents, businesses, seasonal property tax owners and agricultural producers have in the county,” she said.
“Taxpayers have been hit hard with the shift in the market value homestead credit,” said Gruber. “We are sensitive to any and all property tax increases and the decision was not taken lightly. We will continue to put every effort into trying to maintain the high level of service taxpayers deserve with as little impact to property taxpayers as possible.”
Other business that came before the Morrison County Commissioners Tuesday included:
• Approving the internal hiring for a case aide position in the Social Services Department. The staffing level is the same with a slight reduction in budget due to the new hire being at a lower step;
• Approving a conditional use permit (CUP) for a 320-foot meteorological tower to be erected on the Morrill Township property of David and Kathleen Gadacz to gather data for 24 to 48 months;
• Approving a CUP for a 198-foot meteorological tower to be erected on the Morrill Township property of Josephine Schreifels to gather data for 24 to 48 months;
• Approving a CUP for the Auger Family Revocable Living Trust to replace a one-story 704-square-foot cabin with a two-story 960-square-foot cabin;
• Approving a request by the Sullivan Lake Improvement District for a $30 assessment for 264 owners for weed treatment;
• Approving a request by the Crookneck Lake Improvement District for a $50 assessment for property owners, a reduction of $5 from the previous assessment;
• Approving the amendment to the Morrison County Recreational Trail Rules and Regulations Ordinance which makes allowance for the new Soo Line Trail access ramp on the west side of Highway 10;
• Approving the Minnesota Trail Association Program agreement for the Morrison County Recreational Trails Association’s snowmobile trails, and authorizing the disbursement of funds as they are received;
• Approving the preliminary budget of $37.970 million at a 9.06 increase. “A great deal of that amount is because of state and federal revenue and not local tax dollars,” said County Auditor Russ Nygren;
• Approving the levy and budget for the Morrison County Housing and Redevelopment Authority at $30,000;
• Setting the date for the Truth in Taxation hearing as Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. in meeting room one of the Morrison Government Center; and
• Approving the revised Morrison County cell phone policy due to technology changes which prompt Internal Revenue Service rules and regulations changes. “We are migrating from a county-owned device policy to more of a stipend policy,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.
The next meeting of the County Board will be a planning session Tuesday, Oct. 2, at 8:30 a.m. in the board room at the Government Center.