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Crow Wing County hears preliminary levy could be reduced further

Crow Wing County preliminary numbers for the 2013 levy may decrease from initial estimates.

During a budget workshop, staff suggested additional levy reductions of $338,011 to bring the levy to $34,752,163 for a .36 percent reduction. The county board previously voted for a zero-percent levy increase, setting the preliminary levy at $34,876,657.

Currently the budgeted levy is $35,090,174 with staff looking for ways to increase revenue as well as reduce spending. One funding request staff didn’t recommend including was the $20,000 requested by the Brainerd senior center.

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen asked why the senior center funding was cut from the list, saying she’d prefer to put her money in the senior center than the fair which is used five days a year. Franzen said the senior center recently raised its membership dues but the fair board doesn’t seem to want to do anything. Commissioner Phil Trusty said the fairgrounds are used all year and he noted the fair did increase grand stand fees.

Administrator Tim Houle said it was something the county hadn’t previously funded and the board needed to keep in mind there are other senior centers in the county. The county reported the senior center has cash reserves and has revenues in 2012 of $287,000 compared to expenses of $268,100. Franzen said it was nice to know the whole story.

Houle said no one was disparaging the senior center or the fair and the amounts in a $70 million budget are small but a little here and there adds up.

In current recommendations, staff retained funding requests of $75,000 for the Crow Wing County Fair Association grounds improvements and an $11,590 increase in funding to the Kitchigami Regional Library for a total of $549,002.

Mike Carlson, accounting and finance manager, said it’s clear the fair would struggle with the capital outlay for improvements in the short term. Carlson noted the fair additions, such as the proposed covered grand stand are aimed at increasing revenue as events may continue in inclement weather.

The preliminary budget retains staff requests for a senior accountant and compliance analyst, legal assistant, community services officer, administration specialist and 911 communications officer, although final recommendations haven’t been made for staffing requests.

Houle said on this path this will be the third straight year with a tax levy reduction and it may go down further.

“I think that’s unprecedented in Crow Wing County history,” Houle said. “We need some direction from you at this point, you don’t have to have that answer by today.”

Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom was absent for a family concern. After a three-hour budget meeting, board members were silent at the end.

Chairman Doug Houge said, “We’ve got to digest this.”

The board also heard staff identified $7 million to $8 million in existing fund balances that could be used to finance the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) proposed construction. And the county’s financial services reported major capital outlay needs during the next six years could be accomplished without going to the taxpayers for an increase in taxes related to those capital investments. The sheriff’s department also reported it expects to come in $1 million under budget on its 800 megahertz radio project, noting that money could go toward the LEC project. County staff identified other savings and ways to draw down fund balances, or savings from the general fund, community services and technology fund, along with bond refinancing, to potentially come up with nearly $15 million.

In other business, the board:

Heard an update on this summer’s rain flood event. Thirty-nine homeowners contacted the county about water issues and 26 had definite damage.

Eight of the homes were so damaged losing 50 percent of its value and were eligible for current year abatements and credits for next year. Six of the homes had finished basements but the existing assessment didn’t reflect that value.

No flooding was reported on the main level but in some cases the basements had 20 inches of water. One had a collapsed foundation. Extensive mold is an issue.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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