Commissioners OK 3.25 percent levy hike

NEW ULM — By a 4-1 vote, Brown County commissioners approved a 3.25 percent 2018 budget increase and a tax levy Dec. 19.

Commissioner Tony Berg cast the dissenting vote on the resolution that set the 2018 certified levy amount at $13,063,761, a $411,208 increase including $91,509 in contingency funds. Before the vote, Berg said he supported a 3 percent tax hike. Commissioner Dave Borchert preferred a 2.9 percent boost, but settled for 3.25.

Commissioner Dennis Potter made the levy adoption resolution, seconded by Scott Windschitl.

“Brown County is in a very strong position. I’d like to see us not build reserves up too high,” Potter said. “The State (of Minnesota) makes me a little nervous this year.”

Brown County Administrator Chuck Enter said the county revenues will be a little short this year and the issue will continue until state license bureau computer issues are straightened out.

Windschitl said the federal budget is uncertain and the state is not far behind.

A resolution to support a Joint Powers Agreement with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) for the Township Nitrate-Nitrogen Testing Program died for lack of a second after Windschitl made a motion to approve the measure.

Commissioner Dean Simonsen said nitrate testing was a great idea but he wondered how the testing information would be used. Several other commissioners voiced opposition to possible state mandates coming after water testing.

“I can’t predict any mandates down the road,” John Knisley of the Brown County Planning & Zoning Office said. “Again, this is voluntary. Brown County doesn’t have to participate.”

Commissioner Windschitl said he was all in favor of the testing he said would benefit all landowners.

Commissioner Potter asked if the test data would become public.

Knisley said it was private right now.

Commissioner Berg said a Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) report said Best Management Practices would be followed if nitrate levels test high. In addition, the MDA nitrate results explanation read that water with nitrate levels above 10 mg/L is not safe for infants younger than 6 months of age, pregnant women may be at risk along with other people with specific metabolic conditions and boiling such water increases the nitrate concentration.

The MDA warned that infants consuming high amounts of nitrates may develop Blue Baby Syndrome (Methemoglobinemia), a potentially fatal disease. It first appears as blue coloration of the fingers, lips, ears, etc.

Commissioner Windschitl said nitrates could come from septic tanks and lawn fertilizer.

“The part that bothers me is you don’t know where the nitrates come from,” Commissioner Berg said.

New Ulm agriculture and environmental consultant Steve Commerford said virtually all domestic wells have site-specific contamination, most of it bacterial contamination in shallow wells.

“It’s very unfair to agriculture. It should not be blamed for this,” Commerford said. He urged commissioners not to move forward on nitrate testing.

Home Township farmer Greg Bartz thanked commissioners for not moving forward on the resolution.

Knisley said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) contacted his office about the voluntary program to test nitrates in well water in areas with coarse soil.

The program is an opportunity for rural residents in Leavenworth, Mulligan and Stark Townships that live in higher vulnerability ares (based on geomorphology) to have their well water tested at no charge. It is estimated that 336 households will have test kits available plus 34 more kits if needed.

Brown County would not have been financially responsible for any expenses other than staff time to answer landowner questions on the program. Testing would begin after Jan. 1.

The program would have helped the Brown County Planning and Zoning Office Water Plan meet goals in the Brown County Comprehensive Local Water Management Plan by encouraging private well protection from contamination sources.

Minnesota completed a revision of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) which is the state’s response strategy to nitrates in groundwater resulting from agricultural inputs. One of the goals of the plan is to minimize or mitigate the pollution source from nitrogen fertilizer.

About 20 percent community water suppliers and six percent of private wells across the state have elevated nitrate or nitrate-nitrogen levels in their water supplies. However, walk-in nitrate clinics suggest there could be anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of wells above the nitrate-nitrogen standard in some counties.

Commissioners approved:

• The 2018 Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Plan. A total of $52,132 was allocated to Brown County in 2018, based on the number of launches and watercraft trailer spaces. There are no required match funds.

• The United Way of Brown County Area grant/funding request of $5,000 for the Children’s Special Needs Camping Project and the Letter of Assurances from April 1, 2018 through March 31, 2020.

The United Way grant plus additional social services funding, will provide Human Services the financial support needed to match more than 60 youth each year with positive, summer resident and day camp experiences. This would continue a tradition of more than 40 years of connecting at-risk and special-needs kids to camps.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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