Carlton County commissioners have approved a 3.9% preliminary levy increase is 3.9%, but that number can drop lower as departments work to tighten their numbers.

“County Board Chair Dick Brenner and I, on behalf of the finance committee, will be meeting with each department head to review their current proposed budgets, line by line,” County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said. The goal is to budget just a percent or two over on expenses and the same amount under on revenues.

"The department heads do a great job and the finance committee believes we're close," Genereau said. "If we can get to a point where the overall we spend is just under what we budget and generate revenues just over what we budget, the finance committee believes the county board will be pretty satisfied that the committee and department heads are producing an accurate, responsible budget."

He added that the challenge is forecasting the future of the economy and the county's service needs for up to 18 months into the future.

Two big drivers of the levy each year are wages and health care insurance for the roughly 350 county employees.

"All but a handful of county employees belong to one of seven unions, with wages always being one of the primary negotiated items," Genereau said. "The county's goal is to attract and retain the best staff possible, so the setting of wages is based preliminary on a county board approved 15 county comparison group established through a recent study."

He explained health insurance is also negotiated. The cost of the county health insurance is determined through a formula that is influenced by two primary drivers. One is the nationwide health insurance fluctuations and the overall health of the employees and their dependents. The county can't control the national fluctuations, but they encourage healthy lifestyles by employees such as exercise and eating right so they have the opportunity to stay in good health.

The 2019 final levy increase was the lowest in recent years at 2.98%; 2018 was 4.5% and 2017 was 4.59%.

Carlton County's Truth in Taxation public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 3.