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County Board: Commissioners increase 2014 tax levy by 3.9 percent

When Carlton County commissioners reluctantly endorsed a maximum proposed tax levy increase of 6.05 percent in August, they indicated there was still a lot of work to do. And by Monday’s final vote at the board’s adjourned session, it was apparent that’s just what they’d done.

In a unanimous vote of all commissioners, they endorsed a pared-down 2014 levy increase of 3.9 percent.

“We literally looked at everything,” said Commissioner Gary Peterson. “It was a tough day, but that’s where we’re at.”

Paul Gassert, Carton County auditor/treasurer, explained that one of the measures that helped bring down the levy increase is the fact that the county decided to use “significant funds” from its fund balance, namely some $500,000 to go toward the county’s allotted portion of corrections improvements at the Northeast Regional Correctional Center and Woodland Hills Juvenile Center and some $200,000 to help “buy down” existing Human Services levies.

Several new positions that had initially been proposed were slashed, but a few did make the cut — namely, a new human resources position ($76,000) to help monitor personnel regulations and employees; clerical support to go along with the human resources position ($27,000); an additional jailer at the Law Enforcement Center ($80,000); and the increase from part- to full-time of a permitting clerk in the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office (for an additional $17,000).

Gassert indicated that a full-time position in the assessor’s office will go from full-time to part-time in 2014, as will a position in the recorder’s office.

“We hammered it inside and out and couldn’t come up with anything more,” stated Board Chair Bob Olean.

The levy increase for 2014 amounts to $842,245, and the overall levy totals $22,441,320.

Last year’s final levy increase came in at 2.93 percent.

The Board also approved the final 2014 budget, with budgeted expenditures of $51,017,025.

Commissioners approved the final budgets and property tax levies for the county’s unorganized townships, with all showing only minor increases.

On another fiscal note, Carlton County Veterans Services Officer Duane Brownie pointed out that Veterans Services was successful in bringing in some $13,350,000 in Federal dollars that was paid out to the veterans of Carlton County during the 2012 fiscal year.

In other year-end actions, commissioners voted to hold the line on the 2014 per diem rates ($50, except for the board of adjustment at $65) for commissioners and non-commissioners, as well as for reimbursement rates for meals ($6 for breakfast, $8.50 for lunch and $14.50 for dinner), keeping them at the same levels as in 2013. The mileage reimbursement rate will go down by a fraction of a percent according to government guidelines.

An initial vote to increase the salaries of commissioners by 4 percent, similar to the increase negotiated by most county bargaining and non-represented units, failed to pass on a vote of 2-3, with only commissioners Dick Brenner and Tom Proulx voting in favor. A subsequent vote to keep the commissioners’ salaries at their current level ($21,600) passed. Gassert pointed out that none of the county salaries have been increased for the past five to six years.

The Board voted to increase the 2014 salaries for other elected or appointed county positions by 4 percent, including the following positions: county attorney ($103,906), auditor/treasurer ($88,511), sheriff ($91,052), law librarian ($7,500), airport secretary/treasurer ($10,503) and weed inspector ($5,077).

Willam Hayden was reappointed as county surveyor for 2014, and the Board approved a contract with Drew Digby, special projects and long term flood recovery director, for the first half of 2014. Digby explained the position will be funded through grant money already approved by the Board.