Levy limits leave county with 'a lot of homework to do'Carlton County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert delivered something of a bombshell to county commissioners on Tuesday.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Carlton County Auditor/Treasurer Paul Gassert delivered something of a bombshell to county commissioners on Tuesday.
“Due to the changes the 2013 legislature threw our way,” said Gassert, “the county’s maximum levy limit base for 2014 will be $22,507,000, or an increase of only 1.68 percent. That’s barely enough to cover our negotiated obligations. That’s the lowest levy increase that I can remember — and the proposals that have already been made are the highest.”
To make a rather long and complex story short, legislators who crafted Minnesota’s new tax law during the last session temporarily imposed limits on how much certain cities and counties (with population over 5,000) can raise through local levies. The Legislature dictated that new local levies be held to 3 percent or less. That means that some cities or counties would have to freeze their tax rates if their new state allowance is considerably higher than in the prior year.
Gassert explained that those newly imposed levy limits will mean that Carlton County will likely have to cut some $1.4 million from its budget for 2014, and even then, it’s likely to be a stretch. Gassert said in preliminary budget discussions, department heads have already proposed the addition of 11 new positions, which will likely not be feasible under the current limits.
“We will have to come in at or below last year’s levels,” said County Coordinator Dennis Genereau in discussing the budgets. Genereau added that he plans to present the financial scenario individually to department heads in order to “see where we’re at” on budgeting thus far and help rein in any proposed expenses that are unfeasible given the temporary levy restraints.
Though Gassert said the county won’t know the county’s exact levy limit amount until Sept. 1, he warned that the board will have to be prepared to come up with a preliminary budget and levy by Sept. 10.
“We have a lot of homework to do,” he said.
There are built-in exceptions for municipal governments dealing with natural disasters or who are paying off previous debt obligations.
Commissioners reacted to the news of the levy limits with surprise, some indicating they had no idea this was coming and others merely voicing
Just prior to the 2014 budget discussion, commissioners approved a move that will increase the pay grade of a deputy county appraiser from a Level 9 to a Level 10 to make the pay scale for the position more competitive with other counties of similar size. He explained that the position in the county assessor’s office has been posted three times in the past 21 months with few, if any, respondents each time. He said though the county did a good job of advertising the open position, only small pools of applicants responded.
“Looking at it from a salary standpoint,” said Genereau, “there are better opportunities in other counties and in the private sector.”
Genereau presented a rundown of deputy appraiser salaries in 19 other regional and rural Minnesota counties, showing that Carlton County ranks 12th in hourly rate and 14th in annual salary. Currently the top of the Grade 9 pay scale in Carlton County is $24.10 an hour or $46,995 annually for a 37.5 hour work week. The upper limits of the pay scale at Grade 10 would be $25.30 an hour or $49,335 annually for a 37.5 hour work week.
“An increase such as this would hopefully allow us to attract a better pool of applicants,” said Genereau.
“We want to get someone who’s qualified and willing to stay on for a longer period of time,” added County Assessor Marcia Moreland. “It’s expensive to train someone and then have them leave for another job within a year or two.”
Moreland added that the hope is that a higher pay scale will attract a candidate that is already a certified appraiser, since the state will be requiring certification of all deputies across the board by 2017, at county expense if further training is required.
Commissioner Gary Peterson endorsed the suggestion made by Genereau at an earlier meeting that the county consider changing to a 40-hour work week instead of the current 37.5, which he ventured would raise the annual salary for the position without raising the current pay scale. Genereau said so sweeping a move would become a contract issue that could take a year or two to negotiate, and reminded commissioners that “time is of the essence” in filling the vacant deputy appraisor’s position.
The board voted unanimously in favor of increasing the pay grade for the deputy appraiser post.