Faribault Co. weighs 3.4% levy hike

BLUE EARTH – Faribault County commissioners approved a proposed 3.4 percent property tax levy increase Tuesday after getting input from county staff.

Auditor John Thompson noted 2013 expenses are $20.68 million, while the proposed 2014 budget is $20.71 million. He also compared 2013 revenues of $21 million to 2014 projected revenues of $21.4 million.

Thompson went over the 2014 budget line items and noted some changes, such as that next year will be an election year, which will cost the county $60,000.

Michele Stindtman, program administrator of Soil and Water, caused some concern when she noted one of her department’s budget items is increasing 96 percent. The conservation staff contract line item is rising from $79,925 to $156,535. Stindtman broke down the change: the $156,535 includes a $35,660 cash match for a drainage engineer grant, $56,576 for the drainage inspector’s wages, $12,000 for a truck upgrade and $52,300 in other expenses.

Overall, Stindtman reported, the budget for conservation programs will have a net increase of 54 percent.

“Fifty-four percent? Are you kidding me?” questioned Commissioner Greg Young.

Commissioner Tom Warmka pointed out two neighboring counties don’t have drainage inspectors. But they have other expenses that offset that, Thompson noted. He promised the board that he and Darren Esser of the Auditor’s Office will work with Stindtman to gain a better understanding of her proposed expenses.

Commissioners also heard from Billeye Rabbe, solid waste coordinator for Faribault and Martin counties.

Commissioners expressed interest in the recycling program. Cost to run the program in the townships is around $24 per household; in the cities, about $40.

That cost multiplied by the number of households varies from $1,600 to $3,859 in the townships. For the cities, it costs $3,297 to run the program for a year in Huntley on the low end, and $11,741 in Minnesota Lake on the top end.

Rabbe’s entire budget is about $18,000 more than last year, but also is “covered by special assessment and really doesn’t affect our budget,” Thompson said.

Recorder Sherry Asmus presented her budget, but commissioners were most interested in how people pay their fees at her office. Right now, Asmus said, the Recorder’s Office can only take cash or check, no credit or debit cards. That’s because a state law says the county can’t accept a lower amount of money than the one set. Having to pay a credit card company’s fee out of the amount would create a problem.

Asmus said an estimated 80 percent of people want to use their debit/credit card, even with an added fee, for sake of convenience.

Asmus also updated the board on the passport situation, saying she has had no communication from the state on whether Faribault County will be allowed to issue passports again. The nearest places to get passports are Fairmont, Mankato and Albert Lea.

Warmka said he has contacted legislators about the situation. Asmus said she has too.

Some commissioners speculated that the holdup is on the federal level and might involve concerns about terrorists obtaining passports.

“They don’t understand [that] 90 percent of the people who come in for a passport you know on a first-name basis,” Asmus said.

Looking at other organizations, the board wondered about the budgets for the Historical Society and the Ag Society.

Warmka defended the Historical Society, saying the organization maintains several locations and built the Veterans Building at the fairgrounds.

“If they need the money, fine,” Young said. “I just want them to come forward and present their case.”

Commissioner Bill Groskreutz wanted to hear from organizations by the commission’s first meeting in October.