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Proposed county budget a 6.49% levy increase from 2019

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Courthouse

Bond payments account for 4.8% of proposed levy. Public invited to provide input during budget hearing on Dec. 3 at Aitkin City Hall.

Administrator Jessica Seibert presented the 2020 proposed budget at the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners meeting on Sept. 10. Seibert acknowledged each department head for their time, effort and input in going through each individual budget, line by line.

The proposed levy increase from 2019 is 6.49%, with bond payments accounting for 4.8% (or $747,143) of the total 2020 proposed levy. A budget hearing will be held at Aitkin City Hall on Dec. 3 at 6:05 p.m.

2020 proposed budget overview

The county employs approximately 240, with salaries and benefits representing 56% of budgeted expenses. An equipment operator, full-time jailer and new Land Department positions were added to the 2020 proposed budget. A $324,705 increase from 2019 is proposed. Dues, registration and professional development expenses are also expected to have a slight increase over last year. Capital construction expenses are expected to increase by $671,700.

Decreases in expenses for insurance ($4,763), capital equipment ($153,524), other ($994) and transportation ($48,164) were proposed for 2020. A decrease of $13,262 in utilities is due to installation of new energy efficient systems. Service agreements and contract expenses are proposed to decrease by $38,941.

Auditor Kirk Peysar reported seven county precincts have opted for mail-in ballots since 2018, a savings of approximately $7,000 each precinct. There are currently 21 mail-in precincts total in the county.

Use of fund balance was discussed. The state auditor recommends 30-50% of the county fund balance be in reserve. Seibert reported all departments exceed the 50% fund balance reserve. Discussion will continue to possibly scale back on Health and Human Services 2020 budgeted use of $300,000 from the fund balance.

Capital Improvement Plan

The proposed 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan was presented. Main topics of discussion were fuel tank removal, repair of the front steps of the Aitkin County Courthouse, replacement of the rubber roof on the courthouse and flat roof replacement of Health and Human Services due to hail damage.

Appropriations

The board discussed requests for 2020 appropriations and dues. Chair Anne Marcotte commented the 2.5% annual increase for the Minnesota Rural Counties dues is not acceptable. Commissioner Don Niemi serves on the board and plans to follow up.

A decrease in appropriations for lease costs was seen in 2020 because the Soil and Water Conservation District will be housed in the new government building. Increases were requested for the Historical Society to increase staffing.

In previous years, the Ag Society requested $10,000 in capital improvement for the construction of the horse barn at the fairgrounds. Now that the horse barn is complete, board members requested the appropriation be specified. Peysar said the funds would be used for purchase of stall mats, and ventilation and sound systems. Currently, the portable stalls have been removed and the barn is being used for storage to generate revenue in the off season.

Aitkin County Board briefs

The board approved Land Commissioner Rich Courtemanche’s request to apply for a Conservation Partners Legacy Grant for approximately $237,000 to purchase two private land-locked properties. The county match is not to exceed $22,000.

Suggested changes were made to the proposed 2020 legislative priorities to be submitted to the Association of Minnesota Counties and Minnesota Rural Counties to aid in development of legislative platforms.

Long Lake Conservation Center will have two new schools visiting in 2020, a net of two more schools compared to last year.

Niemi and Commissioner Bill Pratt plan to attend the annual BEACON meeting at LLCC.

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