Board OKs 2.25% 2019 tax hike

NEW ULM — Brown County commissioners unanimously approved establishing the proposed 2019 property tax levy of $13,357.696, a 2.25% increase over the total 2018 certified levy Tuesday.

The 2019 budget includes two call-back items subject to further review by commissioners this fall–$24,000 for a sheriff’s department drone and $4,160 for commissioner laptop computers.

The 2019 budget includes $4,185,000 for the County Road 29 project which is funded by a Local Option Sales Tax.

In addition, the current 2019 draft county budget includes $344,381 for contingency line items. General contingencies include out-of-home placement costs over budgeted expenses, high-profile prosecution and investigation cases, extraordinary expenses for civil commitment proceedings, preventative and acute health care for county jail inmates, state aid/grant reductions mid-year, realized in 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

County Program Aid (CPA) from the State of Minnesota decreased from 1,061,806 this year to $1,035,754 in 2019, a $26,052 reduction. According to the current 2019 county budget draft, there are reserve funds budgeted as revenue in order to lower the need for more property tax revenue.

Each 1% levy increase or decrease from the 2018 levy equals $130,638. Either more reserves would be needed as funding or more expenditure reductions would be needed if commissioners set the proposed levy lower than the proposed 2.25% increase.

The draft 2019 county budget is $37,447.936. Last year and for 2017, commissioners approved a 3.25% levy hike. For 2016, the increase was 3.5%, 4% for 2015 and no increase for 2014.

Commissioners unanimously approved:

• A Joint Powers Agreement between the State of Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (MnBCA) and Brown County on behalf of the sheriff’s office for reporting crime statistics in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) format.

• The resignation of Planning & Zoning/Water Plan/Wetlands Administrator John Knisley, effective Sept. 17 and authorizing posting the vacant position according to policy.

• Tabled a resolution regarding review of the proposed land acquisition of 80 acres in Section 36, Leavenworth Township, by the State of Minnesota for inclusion in the Verona State Wildlife Management Area (WMA) for water, wildlife conservation and public access purposes. Commissioners seek more information on the request.

Jeff Zajac, Redwood Falls DNR Area Wildlife Manager wrote in an Aug. 31 letter to commissioners that WMAs provide yearlong recreation to hunters, trappers, fishermen, birdwatchers, other nature lovers and can be a valuable economic asset to local communities by encouraging tourism.

In addition, he wrote that the DNR’s proposed Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) is $2,885.25 a year based on 3/4 of 1% of the appraised value. Taxes for 2019 are $880.75 on the property. He added that the Cropland Equivalency Rating (CER) average for the tillable land on this parcel is “very low” at 41.05, as per the county GIS system and the parcel is primarily excessively drained sand.

Commissioner Dennis Potter voiced opposition to the land acquisition.

“You guys don’t do a thing to take care of weeds,” Potter said. “I don’t know why you want more land in the county. You want to be a good neighbor? Be a good neighbor.”

Zajac said he has not heard about weed complaints lately on state land in that area.

“We got a complaint in the Vogel unit a few years ago. We did a mowing and sprayed it,” Zajac said.

“What really gets me is the tax issue,” Potter said. “You come in here with the sales pitch that you’ll pay us for five years and then it goes down the tubes. Brown County and Leavenworth Township gets nothing to maintain roads around it… It’s less taxes collected.”

Zajac said the only road near the land parcel is County Road 22.

• Authorizing posting for a community-based coordinator position in convergence with law enforcement effective October 2018. On June 26, commissioners approved the position to work with county law enforcement to provide early intervention and diversion from incarceration.

“I really think this is a resource that will benefit the community,” said Commissioner Dave Borchert. “Finding a person will be difficult, but I’m optimistic. I think this is a real common-sense use of money.”

Brown County Human Services Director Tom Henderson said placing mentally-ill people in jail only makes them worse.

On June 26, commissioners approved a the position to work with Brown County law enforcement to provide early intervention and diversion from incarceration in the draft 2019 county budget with an estimated 20% time study reimbursement, subject to final budget approval.

The employee would be a qualified, adult mental health social worker working with law enforcement. The Human Services budget has available funds from a regional initiative to hire a candidate for the rest of the year.

Twenty to 30% of 2019 funding will come from county social work jobs. The rest is being lobbied for by Blue Earth County to cover their two like positions. Funding passed the 2018 legislature but was vetoed by the governor. It will return to the legislature next year. The cost is also in the 2019 Brown County Human Services budget.

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

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