County approves preliminary 5% levy increase

Published 5:35 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 on a preliminary 5% increase in the county’s tax levy.

The preliminary levy, which has to be approved each year in September, can be lowered in December when the budget is finalized, but it cannot be raised.

Several of the commissioners expressed the goal that the levy be reduced before the final vote in December.

County Administrator Tom Jensen said the increase in the preliminary levy covers cost of living and step increases for county employees, an additional almost $100,000 for the county highway department for road improvements and between $200,000 and $250,000 for the county’s portion of the Northern Natural Gas pipeline settlement.

Jensen said the biggest variable will be the cost of living increases and noted that the various unions would be meeting soon with county officials. He said the costs for the pipeline could come out of reserves.

Second District Commissioner Dan Belshan was the sole vote in opposition and said he did not think the budget and levy should have been voted on that day because the items were not on the initial agenda for the meeting. The action items were added to the agenda at the start of the meeting.

Jensen said the commissioners would have to hold a special meeting if they did not approve it Tuesday because the preliminary levy and budget has to be set by Sept. 30.

The commissioners approved the preliminary budget at $61.86 million in expenditures and $62.43 million in revenue.

Jensen said managers review their budgets regularly — some even as often as daily — and are looking for ways to tighten the budget.

“I know people don’t like to pay more property taxes,” he said.

In other action, the commissioners:

• Approved a five-year lease with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for space on the first floor of the historic part of the Freeborn County courthouse for driver and vehicle services exam stations.

Commissioner Ted Herman thanked Rep. Peggy Bennett, Sen. Gene Dornink and citizens who helped lobby to keep the exam station in the county. He said it wouldn’t have been possible without the support from local citizens.

• Approved Freeborn County joining the Albert Lea school district for its Well@work clinic operated by HealthPartners.

• Approved a resolution terminating the service agreement for group medical coverage with SCC Cooperative after the county recently put out a request for proposals to find the most cost effective option for benefits. The most cost-effective proposal was determined to be Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The termination will be effective Jan. 1.

• Approved contracts with the Alden-Conger and Glenville-Emmons school districts, along with Hollandale Christian School, for Freeborn County Public Health to provide various health screenings and immunization reviews.

• Approved submitting a biennial service agreement to the Minnesota Department of Human Services for the county to receive funds to administer the Minnesota Family Investment Program.

The agreement includes information about services and strategies intended to meet program measures with the goal of increasing economic stability of low-income families receiving MFIP in the county.

• Approved an agreement with the city of Geneva for the prosecution of petty misdemeanor offenses.

County Attorney David Walker said the board had approved six similar agreements with other cities in the county.

The misdemeanor prosecution agreements are available for cities with 600 and fewer residents.

• Approved the resignation of Holly Mayer as assistant county attorney effective Thursday. She has been employed with the County Attorney’s Office since October 2020. The board voted to fill the position.