Wright County Board Minutes

DECEMBER 1, 2009
The Wright County Board met in regular session at 9:00 A.M. with Sawatzke, Mattson, Russek, Eichelberg, and Thelen present.
On a motion by Russek, second by Thelen, all voted to approve the 11-24-09 County Board Minutes.
Eichelberg moved to approve the Agenda, seconded by Russek, carried 5-0.
On a motion by Thelen, second by Eichelberg, all voted to approve the Consent Agenda:
1. Performance Appraisals: K. Wolff, Atty.; M. Gardner, L. Westphal, Rec.; L. Beauchane, A. Chaney, B. Doney, N. Eldred, E. Knoop, B. Rausch, K. Walker, Sher./Corr.; A. Halverson, Surv.
2. Set 2009 Employee Recognition Ceremony For 3-09-10 @ 10:00 A.M.
3. O/T Report, Period Ending 11-13-09.
B. I.T.
1. Schedule Technology Committee Of The Whole at 10:30 A.M. On 12-15-09 For Manatron Project Update And Strategy.
Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, said that appropriations are sent each year to the Initiative Foundation, Wright County Economic Development Partnership, and the GRRL. The suggestion is to split the appropriations into a semi-annual or quarterly payment. This would allow the County more options if budget strategies are discussed later in the year. It was the consensus that payments should be made semi annually to those who normally receive an annual payment and quarterly to those who normally receive quarterly payments.
Hiivala said that the County received a sales tax rebate (for the Jail/LEC project) and was then audited for under remittance of sales tax. This is the second audit since 2006. The total amount for additional tax, penalties, and interest is $63,767.26 (including interest). The audit included a sampling of the 2008 expenditures and resulted in an error in sales tax remitted for maintenance contracts, auto repairs, software, and installation. The amount was multiplied by four years of similar expenditures (2006-2009) and totals $28,525.24 (including interest). The County thought these purchases were not subject to sales tax but they are. Hiivala said the County should appeal $33,955.41 in taxes for one time exclusions for aerial photography and the 911 Dispatch Counsel. A company from Colorado was hired for aerial photography. The company provided the material on a hard drive, and the County certified it and sent it right back to them. There is a 60-day window to pay the remainder of the sales tax. Brian Asleson, Chief Deputy Attorney, said he has not had a chance to review the documentation. He suggested that action could be taken at a future meeting on payment of anything that is not appealed. Russek moved to authorize Hiivala to appeal Schedule B of the findings totaling $33,955.41. The motion was seconded by Thelen and carried unanimously.
The claims listing was reviewed. Hiivala said the following claims were pulled from the abstract at the request of the Departments involved: Page 8, Fred Pryor Seminars, $195.00 (Sheriff); and Page 12, Omann Brothers Inc., $1,268.84 (Highway). The signature copy does not include the two claims. Mattson referred to a claim on Page 10, M&M Express Sales, $2,157.97, for the purchase of a concrete saw by the Parks Department. Mattson questioned why Parks would purchase the saw instead of renting it. He felt saw rental was very inexpensive. Richard Norman, County Coordinator, noted that the purchase may be incorrectly coded to Repairs & Maintenance instead of Furniture & Equipment. Hiivala stated that some departments budget for replacement of smaller equipment through the Repairs & Maintenance line item. He will contact the Parks Administrator to verify whether the purchase is coded to the appropriate line item. Eichelberg moved to approve the claims as listed in the abstract, subject to audit, noting the two claims removed by Hiivala. The motion also includes directing Hiivala to verify the line item to be charged for the claim to M&M Express Sales. The motion was seconded by Russek and carried 5-0.
Steve Berg, Emergency Operations Coordinator, said County Emergency Operations Plans are on a four-year Planning/Exercise review cycle. Wright County had a Regional Review in 2006, a Peer Review in 2007, and a State Homeland Security and Emergency Management Review in 2008. The review for 2009 is a County Board Review. He presented the MNWALK, Local Emergency Operations Plan Crosswalk, which includes suggestions of what should be included in the 800-page Plan. Of the 69 items included, 18 of them are mandated to be in the Plan. The three items labeled with an asterisk come from the Super Fund. The Plan is updated annually with such things as personnel and phone number changes. There are 14 annexes in the Plan. Berg said they are trying to reduce the Plan size. The Plan includes the Basic Plan, Operations, and Resources. Generally, 1-2 annexes are pulled from the Plan for reference during a disaster or emergency event. Toward the end of last year, discussions included a new MNWALK. He referenced the material provided for review today and said the draft MNWALK is the one highlighted with colors. The new MNWALK will also include a 4 year review and will include 18 more additions to the Plan in 2010. Berg is the Region 4 Representative and will participate in review of the new MNWALK. He will hold off on the Plan until it is determined what changes are involved. The new MNWALK has 106 suggested changes versus 69 with the current MNWALK. The 18 Sara Title III Items will remain. The red blocks in the draft MNWALK reflect the changes which will be made in 2010. The words highlighted in blue reflect language changes. The last page of the draft MNWALK has changes which are recommended but not required. Berg said most are already included in the Plan. Berg requested the Board authorize signatures on the Local Emergency Operations Plan Review Sheet. This will accompany the original MNWALK and will be forwarded to the State. The State then forwards it to FEMA. Russek moved to authorize signatures on the Review Sheet, seconded by Thelen, carried 5-0. Berg said the Plan is available for review by the County Board at any time.
Norman requested that the 12-29-09 County Board Meeting Agenda only include the payment of claims. In response to Sawatzke, he stated that the Agenda could include Consent Agenda items or smaller items that are time sensitive. The Board agreed this was how the meeting should be handled. Notice will be forwarded to Department Heads.
The meeting recessed at 9:25 A.M. and reconvened at 9:30 A.M.
Brian Asleson, Chief Deputy Attorney, said per the County’s Solid Waste Surcharge Ordinance, the County Board is required to hold a Public Hearing annually to consider setting the Solid Waste Management Service Charge. At 9:33 A.M., the Public Hearing was opened to consider the 2010 Service Charge. Hiivala distributed a handout providing data which supports the recommendation to set the Solid Waste Debt Service Charge at $25.00 for 2010. The Service Charge is assessed to cover the Compost Facility bond costs. No public comment was received. Russek moved to close the Public Hearing at 9:36 A.M. The motion was seconded by Thelen and carried 5-0. Mattson had a question in regard to the amount paid by an individual who owns more than one property. Sawatzke explained that a person would pay $25 per property owned. Eichelberg moved to adopt Resolution 09-50, seconded by Russek. Mattson questioned whether the tax is assessed against tax forfeit or foreclosed properties. Asleson stated that a tax forfeit property that includes a structure (house or commercial) is considered a solid waste producing unit. When the property goes tax forfeit, the service charge is written off. He felt the majority of tax forfeit parcels might include bare land. Sawatzke asked whether the special assessments are paid at the time the tax forfeit property is purchased. Hiivala said the County recovers its costs, and then pays the cities their special assessments. The County’s special assessments are written off. Sawatzke said the special assessments should be included and not written off. The motion carried 5-0 on a roll call vote.
WHEREAS, Wright County has solid waste management authority under Minnesota Statutes Chapter 400; and
WHEREAS, The Wright County Board of Commissioners has adopted a Solid Waste Management Service Charge Ordinance pursuant to the provisions of Minnesota Statutes Section 400.08; and
WHEREAS, This Solid Waste Management Service Charge will be imposed against all parcels of real property as well as against certain personal property located within Wright County, unless said property is otherwise exempted by action of the County Board; and
WHEREAS, The Wright County Solid Waste Management Service Charge Ordinance specifies that the County Board shall establish the amount of the service charge by Resolution;
1. That the Wright County Board of Commissioners hereby imposes a Solid Waste Management Service Charge for 2010 upon real and personal property located in Wright County as follows:
(A) All real property parcels containing structures, except those containing apartment buildings with four or more units; $25.00
(B) Real property parcels containing apartment buildings with four or more units; $25.00 (per unit)
(C) Manufactured homes and other structures taxed as personal property parcels; $25.00 and
(D) Bare land and any other type of property not listed above; $ 0.00.
2. That, insofar as the Solid Waste Management Service Charge produces revenue used to pay off the cost of the bonds for the Wright County Compost Facility, this service charge shall be designated on the tax statements as the “Solid Waste Debt Service Charge”.
3. That the Wright County Board of Commissioners intends this Resolution to be effective immediately with the “Solid Waste Debt Service Charge” to be collected through the 2010 property tax statements issued by the County.
(End of Resolution #09-50)
Bills Approved
Jolette Adelman. $426.80
Allina Hospitals & Clinics 366.48
American Institutional Supply 695.23
American Probation & Parole 250.00
Ameripride Linen and Apparel 315.23
AMI Imaging Systems Inc. 4,570.00
APEC Industrial Sales & Servic 1,572.84
Aramark Correctional Services 6,578.98
Beaudry Oil Co. 512.79
Beaudry Propane Inc. 1,249.48
Boyer Truck Parts 284.16
Michael Brandenburg 196.79
Brock White Co. LLC 367.22
CenturyLink 105.85
Climate Air 3,340.42
City Cokato 1,524.00
City Delano 2,506.80
Dell Marketing LP 7,507.53
Dingmann Marine & More LLC 120.00
DKMags LLC 2,355.68
Dale Engel 600.00
Fastenal Company 359.94
Forestry Suppliers Inc. 990.01
O Goodpointe C 472.50
Grainger 2,192.31
Granite Pest Control Services 112.86
Hardings Towing Inc. 133.59
Highway 55 Trailer Sales 1,049.50
Hillyard Inc. - Minneapolis 570.62
Joseph Hopkins 750.00
Information Systems Corp. 107.25
Integrated Fire & Security 332.25
International Assn. of Assessin 175.00
Kemble Inc. 5,500.00
Kris Engineering Inc. 8,406.79
Kustom Signals Inc. 141.25
Michael Laurent 159.54
Lawson Products Inc. 431.78
M & M Express Sales 2,721.95
Marco Inc. 2,106.29
Mariposa Publishing 261.84
Marks Service 100.00
Meeker County Auditor 836.55
Menards - Buffalo 690.50
MN Chemical Company 1,151.04
MN County Attorneys Assn. 232.46
MN Transportation Alliance 170.00
Monticello Auto Body Inc. 149.63
North Suburban Towing Inc. 267.19
Office Depot 864.72
Photo 1 119.84
Precision Prints of Wright Co. 298.18
Rockford Township 1,331.80
RS Eden 851.40
John Russek 182.05
Scenic Signs 187.30
Software House International 23,576.63
Sprint 7,249.85
Steve O Septic 280.00
Rose Thelen 1,893.94
Total Printing 436.85
Tractor Supply Credit Plan 254.28
Trillium Development Inc. 2,955.09
University of Minnesota 450.00
Veolia Environmental Services 12,591.84
Verizon Wireless 856.44
Wright Henn. Coop Elec. Assn. 132.00
Wright Hennepin Electric 250.00
30 Payments less than $100 1,572.12
Final total $122,353.25
The meeting adjourned at 9:40 A.M
Published in the Herald Journal Jan. 4, 2010.

DECEMBER 1, 2009
The Wright County Board met in special session at 6:00 P.M. with Sawatzke, Mattson, Russek, Eichelberg, and Thelen present.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the proposed 2010 Budget and Taxable Certified Levy. The Assessor’s Office was open to assist with questions regarding individual property tax statements. Handouts were provided on the following: Major Impacts on the Budget, Total Budget, 2010 Revenue Budget, Budget 100 Non-Departmental, Road & Bridge 2010 Local Levy Request, Road & Bridge 2010 Equipment Needs, 5 Year Highway Construction Program, Human Services Budget, Local Levy, and a draft Resolution relating to the adoption of the 2010 Budget and Levy.
Richard Norman, County Coordinator, provided a summary of the 2010 Budget. He noted that the opening of the new Jail/Law Enforcement Center has associated costs and impacts the 2010 Budget.
Major Impacts on Budget.
1. Labor Costs. County government is an organization that deals with people, projects, and programs. It is a labor intensive organization. Additional labor costs and fringe benefits (i.e., health insurance, PERA) will run $2,395,650 in 2010. Union contracts were settled in 2008 for a three-year period.
2. Corrections. Jail Medical and Laundry will increase $133,500.
3. Building Care & Maintenance. This is budgeted at a $330,000 increase. Most of the costs are associated with care of the new Jail/LEC. A rate increase for utilities is also being realized. Currently, most of the repairs at the Jail/LEC are covered under warranty. Repairs and Maintenance costs will increase in 2011 because most warranties will expire.
4. Elections. This line item is budgeted at a $77,000 increase. 2010 is an election year so a spike is seen.
5. Human Services. Major impacts in the budget for 2010 total $807,800, with a local levy increase of $400,000. Human Services is being impacted with a loss of revenues. The County is mandated to run programs by the State and Federal Government. Many programs have seen a reduction in State and Federal funding, but the County is still mandated to run them. Associated costs are covered with County tax dollars.
6. Increase in Sales Tax. This is budgeted at a $50,000 increase for 2010.
The largest item is debt services and is associated with the bonds for the construction of the Jail/LEC. The bonded indebtedness saw a $2.9 million spike in 2010, which is part of the total budget. If the $2.9 million is removed from the total budget, the overall increase would be less than in 2009. That is the primary impact on the 2010 budget (55.9% increase).
Total Budget. Norman said the Road & Bridge budget is down 11.3% in 2010. Some of this reduction is related to what is scheduled for construction and whether it is funded locally or by State or Federal dollars. Human Services will see a 0.9% increase in total budget for 2010.
2010 Revenue Budget. The handout compares the 2009 Budget to the 2010 Budget for all departments within the General Revenue Budget. The total for 2010 is $50,240,968 compared to $48,041,090 in 2009. Norman said there are eight departments that have a Budget in 2010 that is less than the 2009 Budget. Subtracted from $50,240,968 is $3,775,191 in Rentals and Leases. Each department is charged rental of $16.50/sq. ft. This is because Human Services can obtain Federal reimbursement for their portion of rent paid. Also subtracted is Income, which is projected at $14,698,872 in 2010. Last year, a three-year Equipment Note was issued allowing the purchase of capital goods and equipment. Norman said that the funds are being used in a manner which will allow interest earnings over the second and third years of the Note. The Note allows purchase of equipment for Building Care & Maintenance, Highway, and squad cars and equipment for the Sheriff Department.
Budget 100, Non-Departmental. Norman explained the Personal Services line item carries a budget of $1.8 million in 2010 compared to $0 in the current budget. At the start of 2009, the Budget in this line item was around $1.8 million. As union contracts are settled and health insurance costs are determined, the funds are spread to the various departments in the General Revenue Budget. The health insurance figures are not known by January 1st of each year, as the plan year begins on March 1st. Norman referenced the Liability Insurance line item, budgeted at $850,000 in 2010 compared to $750,000 in 2009. Wright County is a member of MCIT and coverage is provided for property, casualty, liability, and workers compensation insurance. There are 80 counties that are MCIT members. Wright County is seeing a slight increase in coverage for 2010. Part of the increase relates to the re-valuation of the County’s properties. Last year, MCIT viewed the properties and updated the insurance schedule. There are also some increases being seen in workers compensation coverage.
Road & Bridge 2010 Local Levy Request & Equipment Needs. The expenditures are budgeted at $19,775,265 in 2010. Revenues are needed to offset the expenditures. In 2010, the projected $11,683,014 in revenues that will be used come from the Equipment Note ($525,837) and other sources ($11,157,177). The Note will be used to purchase equipment needed, and State and Federal funding will be used toward the highway construction program. The local levy will fund $8,092,251.
5-Year Highway Construction Program. The 5-Year Highway Construction Program includes anticipated projects in 2010. The material reflects the project, type of construction, and how it is funded (whether funded in part or all by State Aid). Local projects are funded from property tax dollars. The local share is budgeted at $3.2 million in 2010. It is hoped that bids will come in lower than projected. Right-of-way acquisition costs are anticipated at $30,000. The local Program totals almost $3.4 million.
Human Services Budget. Norman said the Local Tax Levy portion of the 2010 budget is up 400,000. Intergovernmental revenues are decreasing by $270,800 and Fees-Recoveries are decreasing by $137,000. The County is operating mandated programs with less financial commitment from the State and Federal Government. The total Budget has a 0.9% increase. Norman said there has been a decrease in year-end reserves in the Human Services Budget over the past four years, and there might be another decrease year-end 2009. They hope this trend does not continue.
Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, discussed the calculation of the Local Levy for 2010.
Local Levy. The 2010 net taxable Local Levy is $48,917,651 representing a 7.2% increase over 2009. The Local Levy is calculated by subtracting Revenues from the operating Budget and is the amount needed from taxpayers to balance the Budget. Wright County proposes to adopt a balanced Budget.
In 2010, Local Levy dollars required for General Revenue ($23,246,241), Road & Bridge ($8,092,251), and Human Services ($8,918,400) total $40,256,892. From that, $4,558,787 in County Program Aid is subtracted. County Program Aid is what is certified to the County by the State. That brings the Net Taxable Levy to $35,698,105. The Human Services Operating Budget is up $400,000 due to a shift in revenues at the State level. Wright County will meet the Levy limitations imposed by the State.
Hiivala explained the Special Levies. There is a Special Levy for Corrections (Jail) in the amount of $7,534,170. The Debt Service is at $8,049,032. In 2007 when the bonds were issued for the Jail, there was capitalized interest that could be used. That is not the case this year, and the result is an increase in the Levy. Some of the initiatives the County Board is using to lessen the Levy for Debt Service include a sales tax rebate received on construction of the Jail/LEC ($969,291) and a State Grant for the upgrade to the 800 MHz Radio System ($718,000). A portion of the Transfers In from the construction of the Jail ($626,385) will be utilized in 2010. These funds relate to coming in under budget and ahead of schedule on the Jail/LEC project. The remainder of the Transfers In will be used to offset the 2011 Debt Service. The County levies 105% of the Debt Service as 100% is not collected. The County will use $500,000 in Excess Debt Funds to offset the Debt Service in 2010, but will not have that luxury going into future years. To be consistent with prior years Levy limitations, $406,600 is being budgeted for matching grant requirements in Human Services. The Lake Improvement District Special Levies are pass through dollars.
The meeting was opened up for public comment.
Irene Soeffker, Buffalo, said their home value went down due to market values declining but their taxes increased 4%. In August, they purchased landlocked land adjacent to their property. They were informed at the time of purchase that the property was valued at $44,000. When the tax statement was received, the value increased to $50,000 (25% increase). Soeffker said there is nothing on the land. Between the City and the County, the taxes increased 27.9%. Soeffker was directed to consult with the Assessor’s Office.
Rick Fredericks, resident of Long Lake, owns 40 acres of farm property in Marysville Township. He provided copies of property taxes for 12 years. The property value increased 62%. Fredericks rents the land so it is a hardship on the renter. The property is totally agricultural. He wanted the Commissioners to be aware there is hardship out there. His concern was with levy limitations. He asked whether the County is raising taxes by increasing the valuation on properties. He approached the Hennepin County Assessor with the same question and said they are increasing taxes by increasing valuation. Russek responded that he owns 120 open acres in Franklin Township and his valuation went up 60%. Property assessments are always one year behind. The valuation went up based on what land was selling for two years ago. In addition, Green Acres have impacted property values. Fredericks questioned why everyone else’s values are declining but agricultural property values are up. His property is non-homestead, Green Acres.
Greg Kramber, Assessor, explained the valuation portion of the property tax system. A letter was included with the tax notices explaining the timeline the Assessors follow per Statute. Sales from 10-01-07 to 9-30-08 were analyzed and this data was applied to the 1-02-09 assessment to arrive at the property value. This value is for taxes payable 2010. The time lag allows the appeals process and other things to happen through the normal processes. Kramber said his staff is highly trained and very familiar with what is occurring in the real estate market. The current property sales and those from the last year will be used for the 1-02-10 assessment, taxes payable 2011.
Kramber said development on ag land is not as predominant as it was in 2005-2006. There was almost a 20% decrease in estimated market value on farmland through the entire County. Kramber said in 2008, there were major changes for Green Acres and agricultural taxation in general in Minnesota. The County Board has been proactive in recognizing some of these issues. Last year, they passed a resolution voicing concerns on what has been happening in the ag community. Kramber testified three times at House and Senate Hearings on behalf of the taxpayers and farm community. Kramber explained the Legislative changes that took place. In an effort to help equalize the ag burden in the State, the State took over the Green Acre valuation calculation (the Green Acre value of the land throughout the State). They reviewed the land value in five southwestern Minnesota counties. They take the average sales in that area for last year, which was $4000/acre. They determine that as the base and each county has a factor applied. Wright County’s original factor was 100%. Applying the Green Acre valuation calculation of $4000/acre for tillable land, Wright County would need to have an average value of $4000/acre throughout the County. Kramber said those figures are blended based on the percentages of surrounding counties (the better, more valuable land to the southwest to the sandy soil in the Monticello area). This way, the values meet across the borders without a huge discrepancy. Kramber said the $4000/acre factor comes from the MN Department of Revenue. The Wright County Assessor’s Office, as well as other counties, had concerns with that factor being too high. They approached the State and told them the soils are better in that part of the State, and many of the farms are not large enough to turn farm equipment around. The Department of Revenue was receptive to the concerns and reduced the factor from 100% to 90% based on the comments from the Wright County Assessor’s Office and other County staff. The problem is the $3600/acre figure is still much higher than the Green Acre values from the past. The valuation increased 20% a couple of years ago, and 33-1/3% last year. When the valuation notices were sent in the Spring, farm owners may have seen a decrease in estimated market value but saw a one-third increase in Green Acre value. That increase was strictly by State Statute. Kramber said valuations that have realized a significant increase (50-60%) have been impacted by the following:
1. Legislative changes. When there is an increase in valuation, there is a tax consequence.
2. Residential properties saw a 9% reduction in value resulting in a tax shift. Some properties may not be paying as much of the tax burden overall.
3. Limited market value came into play in 2008. That legislation is no longer in existence. Some increases are a result of that factor.
Kramber said between the tax shift, the large increase in base value by the Department of Revenue, and other factors explained, some agricultural properties are seeing increases in their taxes for 2010. The other impact on tax statements is the budget. Kramber provided some approximate figures on 2010 tax increases for farmland: 2,754 parcels saw a 10-50% increase in taxes; 2,241 saw a 50-100% increase; 444 saw a 100-200% increase; and almost 300 saw over a 200% increase. There have been Legislative changes in 2A and 2B. With 2B, agricultural land not considered productive will no longer qualify for Green Acres (starting with the 2013 assessment). A farm must have at least 10 acres of productive land. Pasturing and other things may not qualify as an ag pursuit. The properties will be reclassified from ag to residential and will lose their Green Acres. The classification changes will impact land and out buildings from .5% to 1%. Kramber said these are some of the larger things which have happened from 2008 assessment (payable 2009) and 2009 assessment (payable 2010). Kramber said they have tried to hold meetings and send information on these changes. Another letter will be sent in the next month describing the 2009 changes. Sawatzke thought the Board has been sympathetic on issues and has tried to do the best they can to make sure the shift does not happen. However, the County must operate within the State-wide system.
Herb Neske, Marysville Township, asked whether entitlements have caused property values to increase. Kramber said that right now, things are changing dramatically. In prior assessments, the building entitlement had a great deal of additional value. He provided an example of land values in a city versus a township. For ag land around the City of Buffalo, the building value is there with land selling for $40,000-$50,000/acre. Land in Marysville Township may have sold for $7000-$8000/acre, and land without entitlements was selling for $4000-$5000/acre. This provided the value of the entitlement. Kramber said they did value properties based on sales. If it was discovered that the property no longer had an entitlement, the value was reduced to reflect that. Neske said he is not selling lots off from his land and again questioned why he should be taxed because of the entitlements. He referenced his tax statements. On property he owns in Chatham Township, Neske explained that one property value increased from $86,600 to $131,400, but his taxes went from $140 to $286. He said that is more than a 100% increase and felt it was unfair.
Harlan Anderson, Cokato Township, said taxes went up on his properties anywhere from 60% to 240%. He referenced Sawatzke’s comments on the 60% increase for farmland and the 9%-12% decrease for residential properties. Anderson said there are things the County Board has control over relative to his taxes and the way agriculture is being taken care of in the County. Anderson felt many of the Wright County Department Heads were the best he has seen. He commended the Sheriff and his staff for service provided. He felt that if the agricultural community does not come forward, they are forgotten. He said the room was full of people because taxes are being raised. He said the County is spending taxpayer money. Anderson said he expects better services if he is going to pay 60% more taxes next year. He felt those trespassing on his properties should be caught. He cited a problem with vehicles not stopping at a stop sign when school is let out. Until recently, he said he could not get a deputy to patrol this area. He felt rural areas could be patrolled and revenue could be generated while making the roads safer. He thought law enforcement should make bare land safer by enforcing laws. Anderson said the Extension Office has excellent staff but felt there were problems how Extension is handled and funded. He said the Extension Office went from 40% University funding for Extension Agent’s salaries to Wright County paying 140% of the wages. This issue was not brought forth by the County Commissioners. Anderson said that is only part of the problem. When the University was paying 40%, it was okay for Extension Agents to complete work outside of the County. Now the taxpayers are funding 140% of the salaries. In other words, 40% more is being paid than what the Extension people are being paid. Anderson contacted the Extension Office in August, 2008 with a question. He was told they would not get back to him until October. In May, he called again and he still has not heard from them. Anderson said the reason they did not call him back was because they were working on a Tri-State Meeting in Alexandria and they had to spend two months on that. He did not feel taxpayers should fund materials and time for something that should be a Regional or State activity. Anderson’s wife is the former Office Manager for the Extension Office. He said she saved the County $30,000 and the County fired her because they did not need her services. Instead, a University of Minnesota employee performs this service out of the St. Cloud office. He understands that the County Board has no control over the tax shift but said they do have control when it comes to dealing with farmers and the extra taxes they have to pay. He reiterated that more law enforcement is needed for bare land and that Extension is the key to economic development. If Wright County is going to pay 140% of the Extension Service salaries, he hoped it would change where programming is not done outside of the County.
Ray Schmidt, Buffalo Township, owns parcels of land in different parts of the County. He feels Wright County has excellent Department Heads and it is a wonderful County. He noted that the budget has not increased very much and questioned why taxes would increase 60%-250%. He asked what the projected revenue is at these tax rates, how it is being spent, and how much of the tax will be received in comparison to previous years. Sawatzke said that amount in 2009 is $45,621,961 and $48,917,651 in 2010, which is a difference of $3,297,000. Schmidt cited all of the increases in the County budget and asked how only $3 million more could be collected. Sawatzke said the largest reason is the shift in tax burden and because of the 60% increase in values. Schmidt said the taxes place quite a burden on agriculture. He farms with his son and read the impact on his tax statements: $456 to $1402; $392 to $656; $496 to $830; $322 to $596; $562 to $1200; $686 to $1500; and $1000 to $1800. Overall, this is almost $5000 in increases and all of the properties are classified as ag/homestead.
Pat Holthaus, Carroll, Iowa, owns land in Minnesota. She complimented the Board and the staff saying they are highly reputable and are known throughout the State. She was surprised when she received her tax statement. Some counties are saying in these hard economic times, they are not raising taxes. They try to stimulate taxes in other ways. In the County where she resides in Iowa, they implemented a 10% cut across the board. All departments had to come up with a way to cut. Holthaus reviewed the Wright County budget today. She referenced foreclosures that have been seen in Wright County. She asked if it is true that foreclosed properties are being removed from the tax roles and those that own properties pay a higher percentage to maintain or increase the levy. She has heard that once a property goes to foreclosure, the bank no longer pays taxes. Holthaus referenced the YMCA Property. It is her understanding that the County is buying more land and is removing it from the tax roles. She questioned whether the land that has been purchased should be sold as private property to stimulate the economy. Holthaus understood that the new Jail was supposed to generate revenue, including possibly taking in other prisoners. She asked why maintenance and utility costs are higher than what she felt was projected. Holthaus asked what is being done to stimulate small business in the area. She suggested putting a lid on taxes and coming up with other solutions. Kramber said Senator Amy Koch, Representative Bruce Anderson, and Representative Tom Emmer have been proactive with regard to ag issues. They contacted Kramber last year and requested he testify at House and Senate Hearings on the Green Acres issue. Kramber encouraged taxpayers to contact Koch, Anderson and Emmer with questions and comments. He said foreclosed properties are not exempt from taxes. Taxes on bank-owned properties are generally paid on time. Foreclosures do have an impact on the real estate market. There have been1200-1400 homes a year in foreclosure in the past few years. This creates more of an inventory and competition on the real estate market. The impact is the reduction in residential market value. Some banks are motivated to sell properties for less. Kramber said the general economy and value of residential property has declined. They are seeing the shift to ag land because of Green Acres. With regard to the YMCA property, statutes allow for exemptions for certain types of property. Much of the property was exempt prior to the County’s purchasing a portion of it. Other exempt properties are hospitals, Habitat for Humanity, Montessori Schools, homeless shelters, and group homes. Sheriff Gary Miller said the Jail was never projected as a money maker. Sheriff Miller said the crime rate has declined so there is not the demand for Jail beds as seen in the past. Building the Jail was a 10-year process and was done because of inadequate space. Jail food and laundry line items are up because previously these amounts were paid to other counties for inmates housed in their jails. They plan to explore revenue generating items such as renting bed space to other counties. Right now, there are more beds than services needed. The County has implemented increases for Pay-For-Stay and Booking fees. Miller estimated that Pay-For-Stay will generate about $300,000 this year. The percentage collected from inmates in the Wright County Jail is the highest in the State. They try to recoup costs from inmates, including medical through insurance plans. The Jail was designed as economically as possible. It is a long term investment, and is very efficient and effective. It will service the community for many years. Miller said it was unfortunate that the construction came at the same time as the economic crunch. However, bids came in low and under budget, and the bond rates were very low. They will do what they can to make inmates help pay for the Jail. Sheriff Miller referenced Harlan Anderson’s comment on servicing rural areas and said he will bring this up at their district meetings. Those in rural areas are paying more and deserve more of the discretionary time of the officers in that area.
Gary Lefta is from Darwin but owns land in Wright County. He said people’s incomes are down 10-20% and some have realized a reduction in hours. He asked what the County is doing or will do to lower labor costs. Sawatzke said Wright County has 13 vacant positions which equates to $700,000/year in salary and fringe benefits. Employees have been encouraged to take time off without pay beyond their typical vacation days. Norman said that when a position becomes open (due to retirement or resignation), the vacancy is referred to Committee to determine whether it should be filled or not. The department head meets with the two Commissioners appointed to the Committee and Norman to explain the request to fill the position. The process saves about 3 months in salary and fringe benefits. The County is also analyzing overtime. Some departments, by the nature of the business, have a lot of overtime. These departments have worked to reduce the overtime worked. For example, the Human Services Department is at a 90% reduction in overtime compared to previous years. Lefta asked about the increase in the labor costs in the budget. Russek said the County settled union contracts over a year ago for 2009-2011. The County must honor these contracts unless the unions reopen them and volunteer to take a reduction. Other counties have attempted to reopen contracts or suggest layoffs but this cannot be done. The only way to do this is for unions to agree to it. The County is reviewing whether to back fill positions. About $1 million has been saved in labor costs with employees taking time off without pay and open positions not being filled. Sheriff Miller said the Sheriff Department is a large user of tax dollars, with public safety being about 30% of the budget. However, the Wright County Sheriff’s Office historically runs at 30% less than others in the State. They worked with the Board prior to the crisis hitting. They had positions they did not fill two years ago. They recognized efficiencies and implemented them. The Sheriff’s Department projected a savings of about $400,000 and he felt it might be double or triple that this year. This year, all County Departments worked together to reduce costs and purchases. Departments are doing things voluntarily. He felt the Board will be pleased at the end of the year. Miller said the budget is a prediction of what a department will spend. Normally in government, Miller said the entire budget is spent plus 10%. That has never been the case in Wright County. This year things may not be needed, but in the future, they may be. He said Departments in Wright County turn back a substantial amount in their budget at the end of the year. Sheriff Miller said many employees live in Wright County and pay taxes.
Ron Young owns two homes in Silver Creek Township next to one another. The market value on both went down. One property had a .2% decrease in taxes, while the other had an 8.5% increase. He reminded the Commissioners that people are suffering. He is trying to run a small business. Although it is extremely difficult to lay someone off, he felt services should be cut back. He asked whether the population of the County has increased. Sawatzke said the population is up but the growth is not near what it has been in past years. Young said that with foreclosures and vacant properties, it appears the population is decreasing but government appears to be increasing. He asked that the Commissioners look at ways of cutting. Taxes continue to rise. He was unaware of what is happening in the ag community. He said there are many experiencing hardships. Kramber looked at Young’s property tax statements and said one property is a relative homestead (relative residing there) and the other is split class (split between residential and commercial). He stated Young could work with the Assessor’s Office to determine what impact this split classification is having on his taxes. Kramber said commercial property taxes are about 3% net, where ag is 1/2 of 1%, depending on where the property is located, tax rates, and the tax system tier. Commercial property owners have realized a substantial change over the past few years. Looking historically, commercial properties paid $48,566,589 last year without any special assessments. This year, even with similar values, that amount has risen to $53,135,240. Kramber said that commercial properties are recognizing some of the tax shift from residential as well. Young said he came up with the idea up putting up a billboard on his property to try to generate revenue from his property. He asked both the billboard company and the County and was told the billboard would not significantly impact his taxes. The year after the billboard was up and established, the property value was $60,000 for a 3’x3’ square with cement and pipe. This increased his taxes by $1500. Young strongly disagreed with this and felt the entire process was poor. Kramber said billboards, cell towers, and items like that are exempt from sales tax. The land that those items sit on is taxable. There are three approaches to value including cost, income, and market. The income approach is very viable in determining valuation. The income received for the billboard can be converted into a value. Along the I-94 corridor, they value billboard sites at $60,000. The metro is using $250,000. Kramber felt that this might be where the split classification came in on this property. It is in direct relationship to the income being derived from it. When a billboard or cell tower sits on government or state owned property, it is billed back to the owner of the billboard or cell company. Young felt this should have been explained to him prior to being in the middle of the process. He asked the questions. Kramber said an independent assessor contracts with Silver Creek. Kramber did not feel he had discussed this situation with Young. He had talked with a representative from Franklin on multiple occasions regarding this property and felt he had explained it very well to them.
Allen Mallerick lives in the City of Buffalo and owns property in Marysville Township. He extended thanks for the actions taken to control County spending. Looking at the proposed property tax, he felt it tells that the efforts have not been sufficient. He did not grade the County’s performance very high at this point. He said the taxes are negatively impacting everyone. He invited Commissioners to look at the properties around the County that are for rent, lease, sale or foreclosed. Mallerick said he is a retired executive for an international financial services company. He has managed through wage freezes, benefit freezes, downsizings, and outsourcings. He suggested that government take a page from private business and shrink the size of the County’s staff, picking a sufficient number that will freeze taxes. It should be done across the Board so that every department is impacted. Mallerick has outsourced an entire department where all employees were let go, including him. Mallerick said the State has placed the County in a terrible position and the Governor will probably not give the County any more money. He thought that more might be taken away. He felt each Department Head could cite chapter and verse why they need more. Everyone understands the costs associated with fuel, asphalt, and benefits for those receiving public assistance, but he felt it seemed like fewer and fewer taxpayers are sharing the burden. He asked the Board to implement a freeze. Mallerick said he understands the union contract argument but felt everyone at the County is an at-will employee. He said the County may not be able to alter benefit packages or wages but employees can be let go. He felt it was time to resort to that. Russek said Wright County was conservative with hiring when things were going well. He referenced Carver County who has over 800 people to service less population than Wright County. Some services are needed. He did not feel Wright County could cut employees like other counties as Wright County never had the surplus of help. If Wright County had 800 employees, then maybe some could be laid off.
Harlan Anderson disagreed with Russek. He was unsure how other departments are run, but said with the Extension Service, the County is paying for services offered to the University that have no benefit to Wright County. He felt there should be an audit of departments to find out whether services are being paid for that are not rendered in Wright County. Anderson said he totally disagrees with the comment about Wright County being conservative in hiring. He believes spending is occurring that is benefiting other parts of Minnesota and not him as a taxpayer in Wright County. Anderson said he needs the Extension Office, but he does not support them spending 3/4 of their time outside of Wright County. He felt the Board was liberal in allowing the County taxpayer to pay for services not rendered in Wright County. Sawatzke said he does not serve on the Extension Committee nor is he an expert on the Extension Service. The way the Extension Service works in Wright County and the way services are acquired is the same as the other 86 counties in the State. He did not feel the University of Minnesota would set up a plan specific to Wright County. Anderson agreed this would not be feasible. Washington County dropped the Extension Service but still has the 4H Program. It is operated out of the Regional Office. Anderson said if 4H is dropped in Wright County, it will not disappear but will be operated out of the Regional Office. He felt the difference in Wright County is that the Extension Service is being managed by the University of Minnesota Regional Director. Other counties do not put up with their employees working in other parts of the State. Anderson felt there were people in the Wright County Extension Service who are spending more time working out of the County. Russek said the County does not fund the Regional Director’s position. Another position is only funded 3/4 time by the County, the remainder is State funded. He said the County holds a contract with the State just for the portion Wright County has. Anderson referenced the time the former 4-H person spent in the St. Cloud office and the mileage paid to that person. He said they were paid mileage from Buffalo to the St. Cloud office when they live in St. Cloud. Russek said the current 4-H person lives in Watertown but intends to move to Wright County. Anderson’s wife is the former Office Manager of the Extension Service. Sawatzke felt she was one of the greatest employees to have worked in Wright County. Since she has retired, however, there is $42,000 less in the Extension budget. Anderson said the position was not replaced so there is that much less service being provided.
James Manderlin, City of Monticello, said the message being sent is there should be no tax increases and no new taxes. He moved to Wright County from Wisconsin two years ago. He felt the services provided in the County were fine but not phenomenal. He did not understand why taxes would be up this year when private business is hurting. He has taken a reduction in pay and hours. He emailed the Assessor indicated that there needs to be a significant drop in property taxes for the 2011 budget. He thought this was supposed to happen in 2010. He asked how many employees are on the Wright County payroll, whether there will be wage increases in the 2010 budget, and whether all employees are under a union contract. Norman stated there are approximately 675 full-time equivalent employees. The collective bargaining agreements have been settled for 2009-2011 with a 2.5% wage increase each year. There are approximately 60 non-union employees and the County Board voted to give them a 2.5% wage increase in 2010. Manderlin did not feel anyone should receive a pay increase at this time. Manderlin asked for an explanation of the Non-Department, Personal Services line item. He also asked why the Non-Departmental increased from $4,722,872 in 2009 to $6,266,293 in 2010 (2010 Revenue Budget handout). Norman said the Non-Departmental Personal Services line item has a $1.8 million budget for 2010 and reflects $0 for 2009. At the start of 2009, this line item had approximately a $1.8 million budget. The funds are spread to various departments during the year to cover labor costs for contract settlements, insurance, etc. In 2010, the $1.8 million will be spread to departments in the same fashion so that figure will decrease. The 2.5% wage increase is part of the $1.8 million budget.
Scott Greenfield, Marysville Township, asked for an explanation on why the “less capitalized interest” on the local levy is not budgeted in 2010. Hiivala stated that when the bonds were issued in 2007 to construct the Jail, there were several years remaining on some other bonds. Those bonds are no longer in place. The County used capitalized interest and issued $53 million for a $50 million project. The $3 million was used to finance the debt service for a couple of years. In 2009, $2.5 million was used to offset the levy. The spike in debt service was anticipated in 2010.
Norman received correspondence from Daniel P. Marty, NIMAR Properties, which was read into the record. The two letters received (one for personal property and one for his business) request that the County cut the entire spending budget by any increase proposed in 2010.
Sawatzke called for further public comment. None was received.
Sawatzke discussed the 800 MHz project with Bill Swing, Information Technology Director. The project is $349,000 below budget. There are a few items that will still need to be funded related to the project. Sawatzke felt $300,000 of the project funds could be used to reduce the levy. Hiivala stated the funds would be transferred from the Capital Projects Fund, Debt Services, to Transfer In. Norman said the draft resolution included in the handout must be adopted by 12-15-09 setting the 2010 Budget and Certified Levy. The budget process ends once the resolution is adopted. Thelen said the Board does not know if there will be any negative ramifications for utilizing the $300,000 in this fashion. The Board should consider whether the funds should be retained until it is known if there will be any other encumbrances against the 800MHz project. Sawatzke said Swing indicated the $49,000 will be adequate for anything that may arise. Eichelberg felt it would be advisable to see if anything else comes up and to refer adoption of the resolution to the 12-15-09 Board Meeting. Mattson supported laying the resolution over to avoid a quick decision. He noted the comments made by those present tonight and said he has over 500 people in his District that have lost jobs. In addition to the $300,000 savings from the 800 MHz project, Sawatzke understood there might be around $5,000 in cuts from the Mental Health. He asked that Mleziva obtain the correct figure and provide it to Norman so the budget can be reduced. He asked that the Board consider other reduction ideas prior to the Budget and Levy being adopted on 12-15-09. The consensus was to lay the resolution over to the 12-15-09 County Board Meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 7:55 P.M.
Published in the Herald Journal Jan. 4, 2010.

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