The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners held the second of two work sessions on September 7 with the goal of placing each of the departments’ budgets under a microscope in hopes of not raising the levy significantly.
Mille Lacs County Coordinator Dillon Hayes began the budget review section of the meeting by saying, “It’s not as bad as what we thought it would be,” with the disclaimer that the County is about $16 million under in revenue versus expenditures in the general revenue fund.
In late August, the County was looking at a levy increase of 19.5% but are now looking at a possible levy increase of 9.5%.
In the community and veterans services department, Hayes said that the reserve fund balance could be drawn down to 35%, which is the minimum recommended percentage. The fund balance there is currently at 45%.
Discussion moved to the possibility of raising the annual $10 recycling fee. Hayes said that it is higher in adjacent counties. Commissioners Oslin and Peterson supported raising the fee.
The possibility of decreasing officers in the sheriff’s department, who is showing an approximate $900,000 increase in the 2022 budget, was presented by commissioner Wilhelm. “We added at least ten officers after the mutual aid agreement,” said Wilhelm adding that the original plan included phasing the additional officers out with the new agreement with the Band since the county now has tribal police.
Another avenue looked at was the possibility of making the jail an all female facility and boarding out the male inmates.
Commissioner Genny Reynolds said, “We could farm out the high level male offenders and could still keep the Huber (one of the men’s units) and Tango (the women’s unit) units. The cost is $55 per day to board out inmates.”
It was noted that surrounding counties never built their jails for a large female population in which the Mille Lacs County jail can handle and that boarding out some males would come with a cost but could be made up by housing female inmates.
Discussion took place about the possibility of not backfilling the agricultural coordinator position in the soil and water department which would create a savings of about $70,000.
Soil and water department agricultural inspector, Susan Shaw, gave some justification to backfilling the position saying that the West Branch portion of the Rum River is infected with E. coli likely from adjacent livestock manure. The question of whether or not industrial waste from a local sewage company as a possible source of the contamination was also brought up.
Shaw responded, “We need a staff person to follow up on these questions. We need to assume landowners aren’t doing something malicious. My assumption is that there is not one bad player but just a product of everyone doing what they need to near the water.”
Commissioner Phil Peterson asked, “Are we serious about cutting the budget?” Commissioner and board chair, Dave Oslin, said that they all needed to be serious about the overall picture.
Commissioner Tim Wilhelm said, “We’re going to have to look at what’s bare bones.
More county engineer uncertainties
In other County business, it was noted at the Sept. 7 meeting that the county engineer, Neal Knopik, resigned effective September 24. Commissioner Phil Peterson said they accept the resignation with regrets.
Knopik took the position on July 27 of 2020 after it was vacated by county engineer, Jessie Dehn, in March of 2019, who briefly served in the position. Former assistant county administrator, Holly Wilson, who was also a licensed engineer, served in the interim between Dehn and former long-time county engineer, Bruce Cochran. Cochran resigned from his post effective Aug. 23, 2019 after the board voted against re-appointment.
The County made an agreement for county engineering services with Greg Anderson of SEH (Short Elliot Hendrickson) between Dehn and Knopik.
The vacated position will be posted.