The Aitkin County Board heard the presentation of the county’s preliminary 2021 budget Sept. 8, as County Administrator Jessica Seibert outlined the details.
Residents are currently looking at a county levy increase of 4.89% – which is reduced from the initial predictions of more than 8% due to the use of $1,231,760 of its fund balance.
“It’s not a long-term funding solution,” explained Seibert at the meeting, which was held after the county’s budget committee met. “We all need to keep that in mind.”
That amount could drop to a 3.78% increase, depending on whether $168,000 for Long Lake Conservation Center remains in the budget or not. LLCC is struggling due to a drop in revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Aitkin County is looking at levying for dollars to keep the center functional.
The increase, as Seibert explained, is in large part due to an increase in salary and benefits costs. Salary and benefits make up 54% of the county’s expenses, and the $19,909,009 number this year is an increase of $493,667.
Seibert explained that two different departments have held off on hiring open positions to help compensate for the rise in salaries and insurance costs. Seibert has budgeted for a planned increase at the benefits level, though she said final numbers won’t be available until October.
Among the other numbers presented for the budget:
• Capital construction costs are budgeted at $5,661,150, or 15% of the overall budget. This includes road and building projects, at an increase of $1,120,600.
Seibert explained that the number varies from year to year in terms of an increase or decrease, due to funds being put aside for projects and those funds then being spent.
• Service agreements and contracts comprise 12% of the budget, at a cost of $4,493,928 – a $51,525 increase this year.
This number includes the levy of $168,000 for LLCC. Seibert said that, overall, the contracts that the county has entered into have remained the same.
• Materials and supplies are 5% of the budget, at $1,978,615 – a decrease of $54,720.
• Capital equipment is 3% of the budget, with a total cost of $1,082,271. That is a $104,628 increase.
Seibert explained the number is part of the five-year capital purchasing plan, and reductions have already been made by several departments. There were increases in IT, enforcement, the boat and water budget, and a new snowmobile needed to be purchased.
The county is expecting about $17.7 million in revenues, and currently has the levy set for just over $16 million.
After discussion, the county board chose to keep the levy amount for LLCC in the budget, at least for now. Commissioner Don Niemi said that it’s important to leave it in for now, because at the final budget approval, the board can always lower the amount – but cannot raise it.