by Paul Rignell
Sherburne County commissioners have directed staff that when the board convenes Tuesday in Elk River, they want to read a levy proposal that includes no increase for 2014.
The Sept. 10 meeting is the board’s last scheduled session before the state’s deadline for reporting preliminary levies. With further review of next year’s budgets, the commissioners could choose later to lower the upcoming levy from what they will approve this week, but the preliminary levy would be their maximum number.
That figure will appear on county tax notices to precede an annual public hearing on the levy and budgets in December.
Interim County Administrator Dan Weber cautioned during a board workshop Sept. 4 that though the preliminary levy will open at $41.84 million, to match the 2012 levy per the board’s wishes, the county’s tax capacity will follow a recent trend by continuing to drop and thus tax rates will rise. That is a factor which could cause county taxes to grow for some landowners. Weber said the tax capacity is shrinking at a slower percentage for 2014, which shows progress.
An account of next year’s budgets and the estimated levy dollars needed to sustain those funds came to the board workshop about $300,000 below the commissioners’ early recommendation. Their latest action to reduce the levy came at a meeting Sept. 3 when they voted to freeze the county’s aid toward the cafeteria benefit insurance plans of nonunion employees and all elected officials for a third consecutive year.
New costs that have not been considered, however, could come from union negotiations which are ongoing for 2014. Weber explained for the Star News on Sept. 4 that 10 different unions represent county employees in different departments, and though they have worked in 2013 for terms that were set in either one, two or three-year contracts, each of those contracts is expiring before 2014.
Weber told the board that if negotiations end with all union and nonunion workers receiving a raise of 1 percent, it could bring the county levy back up to its preliminary figure.
Commissioner Felix Schmiesing said he expects the county to enter next year with a lower levy.
“We certainly have some time to get there,” Commissioner Ewald Petersen said.