McLeod County's annual Truth-in-Taxation meeting drew a small crowd at Glencoe City Center Tuesday evening as County Board members discussed the proposed 2020 levy and invited public comment.
Proposed is a $24.62 million levy, reflecting an increase of 8.9 percent from 2019. Levy dollars are garnered as a property tax. McLeod County finance director Colleen Robeck noted that there was no increase 2012-15, and a decrease of 3 percent in 2011.
"If there had been more of a steady increase along those years of 3 percent, our budget today would be at $25.32 million," she said.
The proposed levy may decrease before it is approved this month, but it can't increase. Numerous factors are accounted for within the proposed increase, such as an increase of $774,481 for wages and benefits for county employees. The county has also absorbed additional costs in relation to its joint health insurance plan with Trailblazer Transit and Sibley County.
"This plan has experienced high claim costs for the past three years," Robeck said about the joint health insurance plan.
In 2019, the county made three payments totaling $582,340 to cover premium costs. The county has budgeted $415,000 more for this purpose. To address the issue, the county plans the join the Southwest/West Central's fully funded insurance pool in 2020.
County departments were instructed not to increase their budgets, but some increases were deemed to be outside the control of department heads. Court administration had an increase of $152,000 to cover the fees of court-appointed attorneys. Information Technology had an increase of $78,000 to cover increased costs for maintenance. Workers compensation and related costs increased by $69,000. The presidential primary will cost the county $68,000. Repairs to the courthouse and its utilities will cost $40,000.
The levy reflects a balanced budget in the general fund. In the past, the county has budgeted to use money from its fund balance to offset the budget. Robeck said the county is trying not to do that anymore to maintain healthy finances.
All told, the increase is:
- 38 percent due to wages and benefits,
- 20 percent due to health insurance costs,
- 24 percent due to debt payment,
- 18 percent due to increased operation expenses.
The county recently passed a half-cent sales tax to cover the rising cost of road work. If instead that work had been funded by the levy, its increase would have been 15.48 percent.
Residents speaking to the McLeod County Board Tuesday night focused primarily on the county's expenses, asking board members to reduce taxes in comparison to neighboring counties. Board members were asked to speak more publicly about what efforts were being made to limit expenses.
In response, board members and staff offered examples of cost-saving efforts that came to mind, including:
- the decision not to fill 12 positions that had been left vacant by employees leaving,
- projected long-term utility and maintenance savings expected by consolidating county employees to fewer buildings with the new McLeod County Government Center, and
- savings on supplies, equipment and staffing needs by the same consolidating.
Residents also asked the county not to delay in repairing badly damaged roads, such as Vista Road, and not to use experimental maintenance methods that, while meant to cut costs, had yielded mixed results or taken a few attempts.