Cass County Board: Reserves targeted to lower taxes

WALKER - To lower the 2016 property tax increase, the Cass County Citizen Budget Committee now recommends the county board use some of the county's reserve fund balance to pay for some 2016 expenses.

WALKER - To lower the 2016 property tax increase, the Cass County Citizen Budget Committee now recommends the county board use some of the county's reserve fund balance to pay for some 2016 expenses.

The county board set a preliminary 2016 property tax levy in September at $21,014,633. State law permits lowering but not raising that amount before year end.

The budget committee reviewed budget requests from department heads and some outside agencies in detail at an Oct. 23 meeting. The committee found some savings, but primarily recommended to the county board Tuesday that the 2016 levy be reduced by $856,414 to $20,578,383.

That difference largely would come by spending that much from reserve fund balance.

Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe said Tuesday the county generally tries to budget so that there won't be a deficit at year end. With some savings during the year, it is still possible not all of the expected $856,414 will be spent.


Through 2014, Cass has been able to add to rather than subtract from its fund balance at each year end.

The committee recommendation now calls for increasing the 2016 levy by 4.34 percent rather than the 6.55 percent proposed in September. That would be a 31.4654 percent tax rate.

"We try to keep the rate around 30 percent," Wolfe said, which has been the case since 2008.

If the county board approves that rate and budget in December, the county share of property taxes on a $100,000 homestead would rise $7; on a $200,000 homestead, $16; on a $300,000 homestead, $26; on a $400,000 homestead, $36; or on a $500,000 homestead, $45.

The increase for a $100,000 seasonal recreational property would rise $9; for a $200,000 property, $18; for a $300,000 property, $27; for a $400,000 property, $36; or for a $500,000 property, $45.

On commercial properties, the increase for a $100,000 property would be $13; for a $200,000 property, $30; for a $300,000 property, $47; for a $400,000 property, $65; for a $500,000 property, $84; or for a $750,000 property, $128.

The budget committee recommends the board approve raising the garbage hauler tipping fees at the transfer station $3 in 2016 to cover the county's higher contract cost to dispose of garbage taken from the transfer station to a landfill.

The committee recommends using $500,000 of Health, Human and Veterans Services' $3 million reserve fund to pay some of rising out of home child placement costs, which are projected to increase by $936,000 in 2016.


Payments to the family centers will be reduced by $15,000 by the fact the Hackensack-Onigum-Walker-Akeley Family Center plans to close in 2016.

Cass' costs for an aerial photography project may be paid through Region 5 and National Joint Purchasing Association resources rather than by county tax dollars.

County employee health insurance and building heating costs for 2016 will be lower than originally expected.

Several key administrative officials plan to retire in the next year. The committee recommends fund balance be spent down to pay the cost for retirees to train replacement personnel for up to one quarter of the year.

"The citizen budget committee takes their work seriously. They show up. They come prepared," Commissioner Neal Gaalswyk said. He also praised county staff for having figures available when needed for the committee to evaluate.

Part of the reason county costs are rising for 2016 will be the added personnel new state regulations for child protection require. This has led to requests for added personnel in Health, Human and Veterans Services, Probation Department, County Attorney Department and increased overtime for the Sheriff's Office. Those departments comprise a case review team.

Tuesday, HHVS Director Reno Wells and Supervisor Michelle Piprude explained how response to child protection cases now requires a specially trained social worker to meet with a child within 24 hours of a child at risk case.

Previously, the initial contact could be made by phone. The social worker had up to five days to meet in person with the child and family.


Now, if there is a potentially suicidal child at a hospital, the specially trained social worker or their supervisor must meet any hour 24 hours a day at that hospital with the child, Piprude explained.

This can mean the social worker may have to drive to Brainerd, Bemidji, Grand Rapids, St. Cloud or Fargo in the middle of the night, Wells said.

Tuesday, Wells obtained board approval to hire an additional child protection social worker originally scheduled to be hired in 2016.

Also approved Tuesday was renewed county funding of $5,000 for each school district in the county for the Cass County/Leech Lake Reservation Children's Initiative. This collaborative board brings all the county's school superintendents together to work on mutual issues, Gaalswyk said.

The board also approved a new three-year contract with University of Minnesota Extension for the county to continue funding a county 4-H program director. The contract calls for a 2-percent wage increase in 2016, a 2.25-percent increase in 2017 and a 2.5-percent increase in 2018.

Total costs for salary, benefits and related expenses would be $68,881 in 2016, $70,431 in 2017 and $72,192 in 2018.

Mardi Harder, regional extension director, said less than the full amount would be paid if the director works only part-time as currently is the case while a temporary director is working part-time. She expects a new full-time director to be hired in December, she said.

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