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Five years in a row

WALKER — Cass County Board voted Tuesday to approve the same dollar property tax levy for the fifth year in a row.

The board can lower but not raise the $20,046,613 levy before finalizing it in December.

It includes the same $19,585,613 for county operations and the same $416,000 for the Longville Ambulance Service District. The ambulance sum is levied only within that service district surrounding Longville.

Because the county property valuation has declined in the last year, levying the same dollar amount will mean a 2.67 percent rate increase county-wide to 30.301 percent and a 2.68 percent increase within the Longville district to 34.104 percent.

Administrator Robert Yochum said Cass’s levy rate is still the lowest rate among Cass’s surrounding eight neighbor counties.

Because a special formula the state used during the recession for local government aids expires at the end of 2012, Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe explained Cass’s lost aids the last few years will reverse some for 2013, giving the county $630,549 from the state rather than the $359,016 Cass received this year.

The state aid allocation system reverts to a former law in 2013, Wolfe explained. This means some other counties will see a sharp loss in state aid. Those counties could lobby the Legislature next session for relief that could lower what Cass gets in 2013, he warned.

By holding the dollar levy the same, Cass’s proposed budget at this time shows only a $244,359 contingency fund for 2013, down from the $640,405 set aside in 2012. The budget continues allowing for employee step increases worth about 3 percent for about 52 percent of staff, but does not allow for any pay scale cost of living raises.

Cass’s employee union contracts expire the end of 2012.

Yochum noted some public employers are starting to grant cost of living raises again. He said if a 1 percent cost of living were added here in 2013, it would cost Cass another $156,000 a year for all employees.

Total departmental requests for Cass’s proposed 2013 budget are up $1,076,409 from 2012. Of that $525,685 would go for public safety and $477,238 would go for road improvements.

The citizen budget committee will begin meeting with department heads this month to determine whether expenditures can be lowered, whether a larger contingency fund can be created and what their final recommendation to the board will be.

Cass tries to set aside a contingency fund to cover any loss of expected state aids, any variation in employee expenditures that may come from labor negotiations and any unplanned expenses that arise during the year.

Commissioners Jeff Peterson and Neal Gaalswyk serve with five citizen appointees on the budget committee. Yochum, Wolfe, Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson and Assessor Mark Peterson serve as advisers to the committee.

There will be a 6 p.m. public hearing at the courthouse in Walker Dec. 6 before the board adopts a final levy and budget.