County votes to lower 2013 tax levy increase to 2.93 percentThe Carlton County Board managed to lower its 2013 tax levy increase to 2.93 percent by its final meeting of the year on Wednesday, and the board unanimously approved it along with the budget.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The Carlton County Board managed to lower its 2013 tax levy increase to 2.93 percent by its final meeting of the year on Wednesday, and the board unanimously approved it along with the budget. Board members expressed satisfaction that the increase was significantly less than the 6.31 percent originally proposed in September. At that time, the figure was met with divided opinions and only received a narrow margin of approval on a vote of 3-2.
By law, the county must abide by the maximum levy certified in September but has the potential to decrease – but not exceed – that amount when the final budget and levy are adopted in December.
At the time of September’s vote on the preliminary levy increase, Commissioner Dick Brenner challenged the county departments and fellow commissioners to bring the figure down below 3 percent. County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert responded by saying the increase could certainly be lowered – or done away with altogether – depending on how much the county and its residents are willing to do without.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Gassert said the most significant contributing factor in lowering the proposed levy increase was the fact that of the six new positions originally proposed, only three are going to be funded. One of them is a courthouse security officer, another is a new probation officer and the third is the increase of a legal secretary from .5 FTEs to .7 (rather than the full-time position originally proposed). Two new information technology positions that had been proposed were also eliminated from this year’s budget.
Gassert explained that other cuts were made by refinancing some of the county’s existing debt, which he said should save several hundred thousand dollars both this coming year and on into the future. Some line items in the budget were also adjusted, amounting to some $50,000-$60,000 in additional savings.
County Engineer Wayne Olson told commissioners he came prepared to reduce the 2013 fuel budget for the transportation department if necessary, but with the uncertainty over the price of fuel, the board opted to leave it where it was for now.
In the final tally, the 2013 levy will amount to $21,600,000, up from $20,983,820 in 2012. The board also approved a 2013 budget of approximately $50 million in expenditures and $28,250,000 in revenue. Gassert said the county will also rely somewhat on its reserves to help make ends meet.
Last year, the county increased its tax levy by 4.9 percent.
At an earlier meeting, County Coordinator Dennis Genereau pointed out the 2013 budget does not include any cost of living increases for county employees and wages are not going up. He said the current budget pretty much holds the line in that regard but also protects the county from any job layoffs at this time.
“We are trying to do as much as we can to continue to provide services at the current levels,” said Genereau.
No one from the public was on hand at Wednesday’s meeting to ask questions or make comments on the proposed tax levy and budget.
In other business to come before the board, William Hayden was reappointed as county surveyor for 2013, and Jim Gottschald was appointed to the Carlton County Planning Commission.