Martin Co. board locks in levy hike

FAIRMONT – Martin County Commissioners approved a preliminary levy increase of 3.15 percent during their regular meeting on Tuesday morning.

Martin County Auditor Jim Forshee announced the county had made enough cuts and possible revenue increases to bring the proposed 2014 levy down to 3.15 percent, which is well under the 5.31 percent levy limit set by the Legislature.

“It’s lower than what we expected,” Forshee said.

The use of $512,000 from the county’s reserve funds was instrumental in keeping the levy increase as low as it is.

Among the cuts made were $100,000 from the building capital improvement projects fund, and $83,000 from Human Services. Other cuts included a 10 percent reduction off allocations for the Martin County Fair, the Historical Society and Red Rock Center for the Arts.

The sheriff’s department also took a cut in the form of a full-time position from the dispatch funds, as a dispatcher is being transferred to work mainly on Homeland Security.

Sheriff Jeff Markquart and Captain Corey Klanderud approached the board to again express how the department’s resources are being stretched thin. Last month, the department asked the board to hire on an additional full-time dispatcher, but no action was taken.

“We have cut and tried to get by without replacing positions,” Markquart said. “But it’s catching up with us.”

Markquart laid out the rest of his budget showing how filling some of the positions would equal a decrease in the part-time wages. But then there are the unpredictable expenses.

“There is some stuff that we have no control over,” Klanderud said in regards to inmates in custody, from how long the inmates are housed during pre-sentence investigations to medical needs.

“It only takes one or two inmates to have (medical) issues and it wipes us out,” Klanderud said. The costs add up from emergency room visits, to deputies who need to transport and stay with the inmate during any hospital or clinic visits.

“It adds up just because we need to have an officer there to babysit,” Klanderud said.

“From our side, we got a lot of money to cut, and your department is easy to pick on,” said Commissioner Chairman Elliot Belgard.

Belgard added that the sheriff’s department is not alone, and that trends for future budgets are not promising.

“Furloughs, cutting positions, we’re lucky we haven’t had to talk about those yet,” he said. “But with the future trends in population, eventually we will have to. And there’s a lot of good employees we have that we’d like to keep.”

The board also addressed a letter explaining why an application was rejected for a third year in a row for an $800,000 firefighter safety grant that would have gone toward the ARMER radio system. The letter stated there were portions of the application that were not filled out and missing key words.

Commissioner Steve Pierce objected to the explanation.

“In 2010, all 10 counties in our region were given a template for this grant,” he said. “Seven out of 10 were accepted; Faribault County was one of them. In 2011, we copied their application exactly, word for word, except for changing ‘Faribault’ to ‘Martin County’ and the towns, and we still didn’t get it. So I take issue when we copied one that was granted word for word, and we still get rejected.”

The local grant application was rejected again in 2012, despite making the suggested tweaks and changes by the federal authorities.

“I want a conference call with these advisors and I want to draft a letter to the feds in charge,” Pierce said. “I’ll crawl through poop and broken glass to get $800,000 for our county.”