• There’s some good news, challenges for county to keep in mind as it budgets
by Jim Boyle
The Sherburne County Board of Commissioners held its first budget discussion of the year, which county Administrator Steve Taylor devised to get some direction.
He started off with a slide showing where the commissioners have ended each previous budget session for the past five years.
The levy was $41.8 million in 2010, and it has stayed the same or gone down every years since. Last year’s levy was $41.4 million.
Among his stated goals are to follow a similar levy pattern, ensure the county is self-reliant and self-sustaining over time, closely monitor operating budgets, push to diversify tax base and attract more industry as well as start the process of considering of government center expansion.
Taylor reported there was some good news to consider heading into the budget discussions and some challenges ahead.
Topping the list of good news is that revenue from permits nearly reached the level it was in 2008 at $431,393 in 2013; it was $449,542 in 2008. Permits revenue was at its lowest in 2010 when it brought in $201,415.
Permit activity in 2014 is off to a faster start this year than in 2013 with 28 home permits, including six for new homes. There were 15 permits issued by this time last year, and only one was for a new home.
Foreclosures have dropped from 828 in 2010 to 359 in 2013. Sherburne County’s ranking also dropped from second in the state for the number of foreclosures in 2012 with 694 to sixth in 2013.
Taylor noted that Sherburne County’s own debt is lower than nearby counties. Sherburne’s debt dropped from $23.7 million in 2012 to $18.3 million in 2013. Wright County has $54.3 million in debt, while Stearns County has $21.8 million and Anoka County has $224 million.
Home values are going up, Taylor reported.
Unemployment has been on the decline. It was 5.5 percent as of December 2013; it had been 7.3 percent in 2011.
Sherburne County has fund balances in its general fund ($9.6 million), its operating fund ($690,000), land and building fund ($11 million) and its enterprise fund ($2.7 million). (Note: These are the balances after restrictions, encumbrances or policy limits have been take out.)
“These are the result of prudent spending and to support future one-time capital projects,” Taylor said, be it a government center expansion, technology infrastructure and or the transition of the fairgrounds to another location.
The challenges are numerous also and include expenses expected from the Great River Regional Library chain, a 14.3 percent increase in health insurance costs for Sherburne County in 2015, costs for expansion projects, technology infrastructure upgrades, expiring taxes and unreliability of the state funding.
One thing the County Board will be asked to do is decide how to handle its increase in County Program Aid from the state (similar to Local Government Aid that cities get). It will get more than $3.7 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year compared to nearly $3 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Taylor also noted the MNsure reimbursements are expected to be lower than was promised.
The county administrator’s next step is to make a budget presentation to department heads.