12/19/2013 10:18:00 AM County levy to rise 1.72 percent
by Paul Martin
Goodhue County Commissioners looked hard for places to whittle down the 2014 budget, but found none. They floated motions to keep the levy at 2013 levels, or to limit the rise in the levy to 1%, with directions to staff to find cuts to balance the budget at a lower level, but both failed. They then approved the final 2014 levy of $27,399,013, a 1.72% increase over 2013.
The total budget is $64,323,586. County Administrator Scott Arneson listed several changes since the preliminary budget was passed in September, but there has been no material change in the financial picture.
County taxpayers will see different changes in their individual property tax bills, depending on how the assessed value of their property has changed. Owners of farmland in particular will see sharp rises, after land prices spiked in 2011-12.
How can County Maintain Roads?
Public Works Director Greg Isakson discussed with the Board his wish list for the 2014 Minnesota Legislative Session. The session is expected to be an "unsession," as Governor Dayton and legislators look for ways to simplify and streamline State laws. "We propose that Counties should have authority to close unsafe Township bridges in the rare cases where a Township will not act," he said. "We also hope to simplify the approval process for building or replacing bridges. At present, it is a tangled nightmare."
Isakson also had a long-term problem to run by the Board. "In 2011, faced with many roads nearing the end of their useful lives, you voted to bond $9.6 million for a 10-year program to repair roads. Since then, we have won approval for two new bridges over Hwy 52, and a relief road for Cannon Falls made necessary by the new overpass and Medical Center. The good part of that is we will improve safety and save lives. The not-so-good part is that our share of those costs will be just over $10 million." Arneson added, "We now have an even longer list of roads that need improvement, and no money to pay for it."
Chair Dan Rechtzigel objected, "Hwy 52 is a Federal highway which happens to run through our County, and we are a small county with a limited tax base. We need the Feds to pay for it." Isakson was not hopeful that would happen. "Anoka County says they spend 100% of their road budget on junctions and roads that link to Federal and State highways in the County," he said.
The Board also noted that the Hader junction of Hwys 52, 8 and 57 is the next dangerous junction they want to focus on, even if it takes 10 years to see action taken.
Road Safety Award for
Scott McConkey of the State Department of Public Safety recognized the County Sheriff's Department for their commitment to the TZD ("Towards Zero Deaths") Campaign. "You are the only Department to receive such an award twice," he said. He presented a new Lidar XLR speed device to Officer Jeff Sjoblom, who heads the County's efforts.
McConkey added, "The Minnesota road death total in 2011 was 368, our lowest total since the 1940s. But if you know somebody on that list, you can't be happy with the numbers." The police are concentrating on excessive speed, use of safety belts, and drunk driving. "Your deputies aren't mean when they pull you over," he ended. "They know what happens if they don't."
In other action, the Board approved a variance for Charles and Cyndi Reese, who wanted to replat two lots they own in the Lake Pepin subdivision. The couple had acquired extra waterfront property since the initial plat was made in 2011. The County Planning Advisory Committee and Wacouta Township had already approved the change.
The first meeting of 2014 was set for January 7 at 4 p.m.