In 30 minutes or less: Douglas County commissioners approved 2013 budget and levy
In what might have been the shortest tax hearing in Douglas County history, commissioners passed both the levy and budget for 2013. About a dozen people, mostly department heads, attended the half-hour meeting at Public Works on the evening of December 12.
The levy was passed at $24,548,839, a 0.31 percent decrease from 2012. The county's budget was approved at $44,307,217.
Preliminary numbers had the levy increasing by 2.07 percent. Commissioners and department heads met prior to the budget hearing to trim costs.
Budgeted revenue between 2012 and 2013 remained fairly stable. Tax contributions decreased from $24,811,624 to $24,738,239. Intergovernmental revenue such as state or federal aid or grants the county receives remained at 26.2 percent of the county's revenue, $11,219,501 in 2012 and $11,528,025 for 2013. Licenses and permits remained at 0.9 percent, $385,837 in 2012 and $386,523 in 2013.
Charges for services increased from $4,930,428 to $5,265,733. Investment earnings took a dip from $213,300 to $153,000. County Auditor/Treasurer Char Rosenow said that decrease is attributed to decreased interest rates.
Miscellaneous revenue, which includes elements such as rent, dividends and the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, increased from $1,222,255 to $1,985,697.
Highlights of the budget included a reduction in the audit cost, a refinancing of the public works building and capital projects.
The county saved $15,530 by switching from state auditors to a private entity. Another area where money was saved was the Housing and Redevelopment Authority's capital lease line item, which involved the new Public Works building.
"We did a refinancing, which saved quite a bit of money," Rosenow explained.
Bonds and interest decreased by 11.9 percent. Rosenow said that is because some refunding bonds were sold late in the year and bond documents with the levy information were received after the budget was completed in a prior year. This resulted in an over-levy in the fund. A one-time adjustment was made to even the 2013 budget out and the remainder was put into capital projects to help with current projects underway in the Services Center.
Board chair Jerry Johnson said asbestos abatement in the public health area of the services building is in process and long-overdue painting and re-carpeting are planned. He acknowledged that the school district informed the county of the asbestos prior to turning the building over to the county.
"Asbestos has been a problem with these old buildings since we started," Johnson said. "We spent a whole pile of money doing that, but we knew it was there."
As seems to be the trend, questions were raised regarding the sheriff's office budget. A resident, Tom Brunner, who did not provide an address for the record, asked why the cost for law enforcement dispatch isn't dropping.
Sheriff Troy Wolbersen explained that since the dispatch center is new, all the equipment is new as well. In 2013, Wolbersen said, there is a $73,000 five-year maintenance contract that will not be included in the 2014 budget.
Also, the city of Alexandria used to pay for dispatch services when the center was in the old building. Since 2010, the dispatch budget has absorbed additional costs. The former agreement with the city has been dissolved and dispatch services are no longer offset by that income. State statute requires the county to be responsible for dispatch.
Brunner also inquired on the expenses associated with the jail. Since the jail is new, he said it should be more efficient.
The capacity of the jail was discussed. The jail has a maximum occupancy of 145 and the county houses inmates from other counties for which it is compensated $55 per day. Statewide, that amount is on the higher end; some counties pay as little as $45. Brunner would like to see inmates shipped elsewhere.
A line-by-line comparison of the budget and levy can be viewed on the Douglas County website www.co.douglas.mn.us.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.