Wright County Board Minutes

NOVEMBER 29, 2011
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 2012 Budget and Taxable Certified Levy. The Assessor’s Office was open to assist with questions regarding individual property tax statements. A handout was provided on the following: Total Budget, Major Impacts on Budget, 2012 Revenue Budget, Budget 100 Non-Departmental, Road & Bridge 2012 Budget and Local Levy Request, 5 Year Highway Construction Program, Road & Bridge 2012 Equipment Needs, 2012 Human Services Budget, Major Impacts on the Local Levy, and the Local Levy.
Bob Hiivala, Auditor/Treasurer, and Greg Kramber, Assessor, provided an explanation of the Market Value Exclusion Program and the impacts on Wright County. A handout was provided entitled, “Fourteen Reasons Why Property Taxes Vary From Year To Year.” Hiivala stated a fifteenth reason could include a property classification change. Kramber said the property tax statements sent by the Auditor/Treasurer included a document explaining a 2011 property tax law change. The 2011 Legislature repealed the Homestead Residential Market Value Credit and replaced it with a new Program called the Homestead Market Value Exclusion.
Under the old Law, all homesteaded property valued less than $413,800 received a Homestead Residential Market Value Credit. This Credit reduced the property taxes billed. The credit was equal to .4% of market value for the first $76,000 in market value, reaching its maximum level of $304. The $304 credit was gradually phased out for homes valued more than $76,000, until it was reduced to $0 at a value of $413,800.
Under the new Law, all homesteaded property less than $413,800 will receive a Homestead Market Value Exclusion. This value exclusion will be identified on the valuation notices mailed in March of each year. The taxable value listed on the proposed Property Tax Statement has been reduced by the amount of the homestead exclusion. Homesteaded property no longer receives a credit that reduces the property taxes paid. Instead, a portion of the homestead’s property value will be excluded from taxation. The Homestead Market Value Exclusion excludes from taxation 40% of the value on the first $76,000 of a property’s value. The amount excluded is reduced as the value rises above $76,000 (the exclusion reduction is equal to 9% of the value above $76,000). Homesteads that exceed $413,800 in value will receive no homestead exclusion.
By eliminating the credit, the State was able to save about $260 million each year. This was one cost saving measure the State used to close the $5 billion two-year State budget deficit. Under the old credit law, the State was reducing the taxes paid by homesteaded property and instead the State was promising to pay that portion of the tax to the local taxing districts (i.e., city, county, school, and other local taxing districts). However, in seven of the last eight years, the State did not pay the full credit amount to at least some local governments due to its budget problems. This meant each year many local governments were left with a deficit in their budgets because of the State’s inability to pay the amount owed.
The impact of this State change will vary for each property depending on a variety of factors. In general, the elimination of the homestead credit and replacement with the homestead exclusion will mean higher property taxes for most property owners, even if property tax levies adopted by local governments do not increase. The most significant impacts of this change follow:
• The State is no longer providing a homestead credit and instead the entire levy is being paid by local property taxpayers. In Wright County, this means a total of more than $7.2 million in credits that were paid by the State to all the local governments must now be paid by property owners.
• The new homestead exclusion lowers the County’s tax base by roughly 6%, which has led to increases in the property tax rates of most local taxing jurisdictions. A property tax rate is calculated by dividing the property tax levy by the total tax base.
• For properties that are non-homestead, including commercial and industrial property, the higher property tax rates are likely to mean higher property tax bills even if their values have declined.
• For properties that are homestead, the new homestead exclusion may not be enough to offset the increases in tax rates and the elimination of the homestead credit, thus many homestead properties will experience tax increases.
Wright County raised its proposed property tax amount for 2012 from the 2011 amount by $787,328 (1.6% increase). For a $206,800 valued home that experienced the median value change from 2011 to 2012 (3.8% reduction), the County tax portion of the total tax bill is increasing by $33. If the homestead credit had not been repealed and replaced by the homestead exclusion that same $1.6% levy increase would have led to a $2 reduction in property taxes in 2012 on that same property. The difference between those two amounts illustrates the impact on the County tax of the repeal of the homestead credit on a typical home in the County.
Kramber said Wright County did not get back $7.2 million in homestead credits for all the local units of government. He said that amount is being absorbed by local units of government because it was not received back from the State. The State changed the tax capacity calculation to exclude some value to cover for the loss of the credit that was once received. Because of the loss of income coming in, the tax rates were also increased. Kramber said much of the shift is going to be from the lower value homes to the higher value homes and from all of the properties that received that benefit onto agricultural, commercial, and other types of classifications. In areas where there is a lot of commercial industrial value compared to a township with commercial industrial parcels, those parcels in the township will be impacted dramatically more than the large area. It also involves to home values. If a person resides in an outstate area with a lower valued home, the shift will be to higher value homes because they receive little or no credit. Once a property is valued over $413,800 in the State, there was no homestead credit.
Hiivala clarified the homestead credit is a reduction of the individual taxpayer’s tax liability. He said as the Auditor/Treasurer, it is his job to calculate the tax rate. This is done by dividing the levy by the capacity (value of property times the State mandated class rate). In Wright County, this resulted in about a 6% reduction in capacity. That forced the tax rate to increase.
Thelen asked whether the amount of a tax increase would vary based on the type of property or classification. Hiivala said when a property is classified seasonal recreational, it is not homesteaded so it does not benefit from the market value exclusion. The tax rate increased so the property received a higher tax. Even though the County is presenting a 1.6% increase in the levy, some residents will see more than that amount of an increase.
A person in the audience asked whether things will return to what they were if the State recovers from its budget problems. Russek did not feel this would happen. When the State started the sales tax, it was supposed to be temporary. That tax keeps increasing. The person said their property classification changed from Ag Residential to Residential, their property value reduced by $57,000, and yet their taxes increased dramatically. He did not agree with the County’s assessment of picking out a select few to receive increased taxes. Hiivala said the Assessor could explain the tax classification change. The person said it has been explained to him by the Assessor’s Office and that he does not agree with the explanation. Other parcels are at a lower rate. He referenced agricultural land and Green Acres. He understands the County fought to keep the Green Acres regulation. If the County hadn’t done this, other taxes may not have increased. Hiivala responded that the County has to consider the whole tax base (i.e., including Wal-Mart, Target, etc). The person interjected that it may reduce the taxes in one section but raises them in another. The person said they would like to visit with Kramber again on this subject. Kramber said as far as the law, it is very specific. If a property meets a certain criteria, a property qualifies for the Agricultural classification. With an Agricultural classification, the property taxes on the house, garage and first acre are the same. If a person owns a 20-acre tract with two identical 10-acre tracts (one receiving the Agricultural classification and one not), then the taxes on the house, garage and first acre are the same. The taxes on the remaining out buildings and the land would be at about 50% of the taxes on the residential tract. The farmer benefits with lower taxes on the first $1,050,000 worth of agricultural land and out buildings. After that it goes to 1% similar to the residential property. Kramber said in 2008 when there were major Legislative changes, they did their best to preserve Green Acres in Wright County. With the Legislative changes, they were forced to look at all parcels and apply criteria on whether it was truly a farm. Many lost their Agricultural classification. He said a similar process occurred in 1997. This occurs when the legislation becomes stricter on who qualifies for programs. The person in the audience stated that holding the taxes down on the properties qualifying for Green Acres moved the taxes to other properties. Kramber compared the levy to a balloon. Anytime a burden is reduced in one area, it shifts that burden to other areas. One year a rate change may occur in a classification. The next year, something could change and shift the tax burden to other classifications. The person in the audience stated that this is not true, that anytime there is a shift, agricultural is not taxed as high as other classifications. Sawatzke stated that anyone who owns agricultural land has paid plenty in taxes over the last few years. The taxes increased substantially. The person in the audience said this is not because of the rate. Hiivala said that Green Acres reduces the tax capacity on acreage. There is a grand total of the tax capacity of the County. When there is a reduction in the capacity of Green Acres or the Market Value Exclusion, the burden is shifted to other properties. The Auditor/Treasurer is responsible to calculate the tax rate so that the Levy can be collected.
Richard Norman, County Coordinator, said he is convinced that Minnesota probably has the most complex property tax system in the country. That is not the fault of those elected officials present today. He encouraged people who have comments to visit the Capitol Building in St. Paul.
Norman provided a summary of the 2012 proposed Budget:
Total Budget. The 2012 Budget is proposed at $100,226,420 compared to the 2011 Budget of $99,564,997, reflecting a 0.66% increase. The amounts for the Lake Pulaski LID ($35,000) and Mink-Somers LID ($13,420) are spread only to residents in those specific LID’s. Norman said the proposed budget is less than the 2010 Budget. When the 2012 budget process commenced in June, departments were asked to submit budgets similar in numbers to the 2011 budget. Norman commended departments for doing just that.
Major Impacts on Budget.
1. Labor Costs. The 2012 amount is proposed at $650,000 and includes labor expenditures related to employees that are on the salary step system. Employees are entitled by union contract to receive the increase on their anniversary date. The amount also includes some funding for the Classification Study implementation.
2. Road and Bridge Budget. The 2012 amount is proposed at $553,220. This amount can fluctuate greatly each year depending on the construction program and fuel costs which drive gasoline, diesel, and blacktop costs.
2012 Revenue Budget. The handout compares the 2012 Budget to the 2011 Budget for all departments within the General Revenue Budget. The total for 2012 is $50,792,071 compared to $51,150,002 in 2011. Subtracted from the total of $50,792,071 are Rentals and Leases ($3,775,191), Income ($14,721,911) and Transfer-In ($1,094,500). After the reductions, the net total for 2012 local taxes comes to $31,200,469.
Budget 100, Non-Departmental. Norman explained that Personal Services Line Item #6100 carries a budget of $650,000 in 2012. This amount will cover employees salary movement on the Step System and benefit increases. The Professional Services Line Item #6261 is proposed at $400,000 in 2012. A great portion of that increase is due to the increased allocation to the Tri County Regional Crime Lab. The County entered into an Agreement with Anoka County a few years ago. The Regional Crime Lab is expanding their services. The County is looking at an additional $100,000 in expenditures in 2012. The 800 MHz Maintenance Line Item #6305 increased from $0 in 2011 to $163,764 in 2012. The expenses will be moved in 2012 from individual department budgets to Budget 100. A corresponding decrease will be reflected in those department’s budgets. Line Item 6916, GRRL, is proposed at $1,723,963 in 2012. This reflects a decrease from $1,839,017 in 2011 because of a decrease in Wright County’s allocation.
Road & Bridge Combined Funding Summary. The expenditures are budgeted at $18,253,905 in 2012 compared to $17,700,685 in 2011. This summary reflects the road construction programs and includes the revenues and levy needed to support the Road & Bridge Program.
5-Year Highway Construction Program. The 5-Year Highway Construction Program reflects projects the County is contemplating completing in 2012 and the funding sources. The handout reflects the project, type of construction, and how it is funded. The Local column on the handout reflects the local property tax needed for the budget. The handout also shows costs associated with right of way acquisition. The total estimated project cost in 2012 is $8,378,275.95 and the local share is budgeted at $3,110,028.45.
Road & Bridge Equipment Needs. The handout reflects equipment replacement requests totaling $609,735.93. The equipment includes the purchase of three tandem trucks and one message board for a Sign Department vehicle. The County has a replacement schedule for tandem trucks (two/year). This enables the County to utilize the vehicle for twelve years. In 2012, the County proposes to purchase three trucks because one was purchased in 2011.
Human Services Budget. The total expenditures in 2012 are anticipated at $23,704,100 which is a 1.8% increase over the 2011 Budget of $23,293,200. The handout reflects revenues received compared to expenditures. It also shows the annual Year End Reserves for the period of 2006 through 2010. The County receives a recommendation from the State on how much funding should be held in reserves for each of the major funding sources.
Hiivala provided a summary of the 2012 Levy:
Major Impacts on Local Levy. Hiivala stated that Norman explained the operating expenses. Hiivala would explain the revenues that are used to get down to the levy required. These include:
• County Program Aid, ($-1,355,970). As discussed earlier in the meeting, the State cut County Program Aid to the County in the amount of $1,355,970. If that amount alone were levied to the taxpayers, it would result in a 2.7% increase from 2011.
• Debt Service ($1,432,726). In the past couple of years, the County used surplus funds from unspent construction funds. For 2012, there are no reserves available. It will be the first year of full debt service for the Jail. The levy for the debt service alone is up $1,432,726 compared to the year before. That alone would have been a 2.8% increase in the levy.
• Projected General Fund Revenues ($-527,945). Included in the expenses were expenditures that the County was using internal transfers to pay for them. Those expenses were cut and so the corresponding revenues were cut as well. This resulted in a reduction of $527,945 in inter-fund revenues.
The Board was then presented with a significant levy increase. Hiivala said the County is using the following reserves to lower that increase:
• Unfilled Vacancies ($-500,000).
•Transfers From Reserves ($-1,296,000)
Reserves were utilized to balance the budget and bring the overall levy increase down to 1.6%. The County is trying to make up ground because of the State cuts.
Local Levy. Hiivala said the General Fund includes the Corrections budget. In years past, the County operated under levy limits. The handout reflects the same format used under levy limits.
• General Revenue is projected at $24,692,972 in 2012 compared to $24,291,517 in 2011 (1.7% increase). This is primarily due to the reduction in County Program Aid and Inter-Fund Transfers.
• Road & Bridge shows an increase in the budget but a decrease in the levy from $7,542,864 in 2012 compared to $7,913,510 in 2011 (-4.7% decrease). This is due to the use of the County’s allocation of funds to finance construction projects.
• Human Services reflects a projected budget of $9,107,500 which is down from the 2011 budget of $9,123,834 (-0.2%).
• Special Levies. Under Debt Service, in 2011 the County used $300,000 in 800 MHz and $1,082,458 in Transfer-In funding to offset the spike in debt service. Those funds are not available in 2012 so there is nothing to offset the debt service. The Special Levies include matching grant requirements of $406,600 for Human Services.
• Other sources to offset the debt service in 2012 include unfilled vacancies at $500,000 and transfers from reserves at $1,296,000.
This results in a proposed local levy of $50,583,319 in 2012 compared to $49,809,991 in 2011 (1.6% increase).
The meeting was opened up for public comment.
Mike Matera, Buffalo, asked about the Local Tax Levy of $9,514,100 reflected on the Human Services Budget handout. The Local Levy handout shows $9,107,500 for Human Services in 2012. He asked about the difference. Hiivala referenced the Local Levy handout and said the difference is $406,600 in matching requirements for Human Services under Special Levies. Under levy limits, the County has to report to the State under these categories. Matching requirements were excluded for levy limits in the past.
Paul Ilg, Waverly, said his tax statement reflects an 8.9% increase. For years, he has been receiving about an 11% increase. His taxes used to run $1,900 and now they are about $4,300. He said if the tax is multiplied by 1.1% for 20 years, the property tax will exceed a house payment in about 15 years. Ilg said the County will tax people right out of their homes. He felt government should be reduced by 40% in size. Russek asked what Ilg wants cut for services; for example, would he want Jail services cut. Ilg responded that the Federal government is spending 41% more than it is taking in, so the County might as well get used to the fact that everything will need to be cut by 40% sooner or later. Russek stated that if the State would not have implemented cuts, the County would have lowered the levy this year. Ilg said the State is broken, everything is broken, and the system is going to collapse. He said the budgets will need to be drastically cut so people have somewhere to live.
Kim Robinson, Hanover, said her taxes went up 13.4% and her property value remained flat. She appreciated the predicament the County has been placed in by not receiving State funding. She referenced the material provided on the budget and levy and asked for a handout reflecting budget cuts. She referenced the comment made on asking departments to keep their budgets the same as last year. Corporations are telling their departments to budget 10% less. Robinson said everyone knows stories about the $5,000 toilet seats where if money is spent this year, it will be included in budgets next year. She referenced the comment by Russek on cutting services in the Jail and felt that wasn’t an option. She said if she could see that government is being responsible, she would have no problem paying. When she is asked for 13% more and then is not shown anything that has been cut, that is a problem. She asked whether that document exists. Russek responded that the Budget 100, Non-Departmental handout reflects budget fluctuations. He said Norman provided additional information on those that increased. Robinson asked for a list of across the Board, 10% reductions in every department and for every person. She asked if that has been proposed. Russek said the budgets were reduced by 5% a couple of years ago. Robinson felt the County was looking at the budget process backwards. She felt expenses should be based upon revenues. Taxes cannot increase by 13% every year. Russek said the budgets are scrutinized. Wright County has been very conservative and has not overstaffed. If Wright County had been as liberal as Carver and other surrounding counties, 10% could be cut. Robinson said that is not the point. They live in Wright County. She referenced a comment made earlier about only a .66% increase in the budget. She felt he should have said a reduction of .8%. She said it doesn’t even seem as though that is an option. The County kept the budget under a 1% increase, but that means an increase for all present for the meeting. She said that is unacceptable. Her family has not received a pay increase in three years. Robinson works for private business. Her children have lived with a reduced budget every year.
Thelen said the County has mandates to provide particular services. The State solved its budget crisis by not raising taxes on those earning over $1 million. This burden was shifted to all, probably to those that could least afford it. The State said no new taxes. The State relied on residents not understanding what happened and that residents would come to local units of government for the answers. Thelen viewed this as a totally unfair way to raise taxes. Although she may reside next to a person who has the same home value, they may earn five times as much. The property tax is the same, however. She viewed this as an unfair way to raise money to support the services that are provided.
Robinson again asked what was reduced on the list. If the market value of properties decreased and the County is collecting less revenue per parcel, the list of expenses should be reduced. She referenced Employee Enhancement for $15,000. She said the Board is refusing to address the fact that they are not cutting anything in the budget. Thelen said there is a point where services can’t be cut. She asked if the County should, for example, reduce disability services, Road & Bridge, or the Jail. Thelen said that is what Russek asked Robinson. Looking at most of what the State considered cutting, it involved things that were preventive in nature. She felt in the long run it would save money if funds were put into preventive services. She said the legislative delegation was invited to attend tonight’s meeting. The State understands how their actions (no raising of revenues) will affect local units of government. Thelen wants a more integrated, more holistic process of building the budget so no one can pretend they are not going to raise taxes. Otherwise, what happens is counties take the questions from the public on why property taxes are being raised. Thelen said the County is mandated to provide particular services.
Robinson asked whether Thelen was saying that everything in the budget is mandated by the State and there is no room for decrease. Thelen said in Human Services, there are two programs that are not mandated. One is mediation services that people pay for through a fee. The other is transportation services provided for the elderly. Otherwise, all services need to be provided.
Robinson said when she is told she is getting so much in a paycheck, she has to reduce her expenses at home. She had to cut because of income going down. She said what Thelen is indicating is that the County will just ask for more money instead of cutting, and he does not see that the County is cutting. That is a problem.
Thelen said this is not a simple analogy. She agrees either cuts need to be made or the money needs to come from somewhere. She questioned where the County should cut services at this time. She said when she sees a transfer of who is responsible for paying for what everyone has agreed are necessary services, it is becoming more and more unfair. She did not feel the solution is to cut from those that have the least. Robinson said she is not stating the County should cut from those that have the least. She is asking the County to go to each department and tell them to reduce their budget by 10%. If the Board told departments that they either need to reduce their budgets by 10% or they will lose head count, the departments will reduce their budgets. Unless they are told this, they will not voluntarily do it. She said there is fluff in every budget. She said the Board needs to take the responsible role and force departments to do this.
Steve Ellis, French Lake, asked whether the handout will explain why his net property tax increase is 45.1%, even though his estimated market value and taxable market value went down. Russek said his increase went up quite a bit as well, and the value on his land and home went down. Russek felt the document may explain this to Ellis. He said his neighbor’s taxes went down and he felt they should at least stay the same. Eichelberg encouraged Ellis to contact the Assessors Office to discuss this. Ellis commented that the County should put less salt on the road to save money.
Layne Roschen, St. Michael, felt Robinson made some good points. The St. Michael School District passed their referendum. He was unsure of the increase on a per capita basis. The City has a 2.5% increase which may result in some residents paying more. Roschen’s increase is over 12% for St. Michael alone. His County property taxes are estimated at 8%. People in the private sector have been impacted in many ways – through layoffs, stagnant wages, increased medical premiums, and impacts on retirement accounts. He asked where the money is going to come from. Roschen stated that taxes are being raised at all levels. People cannot go to their employers to ask for a wage increase to cover their taxes. Government spending needs to be kept in check with what is happening in the private sector. Otherwise, it crowds people’s ability to spend on other things in their communities. Roschen said he would like to see more transparency on the budget process, and that it should be available online. People should be able to review this information so they can come in to speak to the issues. Past budget information should be available for review as well. Roschen feels Hennepin, Ramsey and Carver Counties spend far too much on government. However, many counties are not spending in this next levy process. He thought that either Hennepin County or Ramsey County will have a 1.7% increase. Anoka County is reducing their budget by 7.6%. Carver and Scott Counties have 0% increases. He asked why Wright County needs a 1.7% increase. He referred to the financial shell game the State has played with local units of government. Roschen viewed the Legislature’s decision to not raise income taxes as a good thing. Roschen would rather pay more property taxes than income taxes, because he can talk with the people at the local level much easier than dealing with the Legislature and those at the State level. He said it will come out of one pocket or another. Russek responded that he has a different opinion on the property taxes versus the income and sales taxes. There are many people with low incomes who are being impacted by property taxes. If a person doesn’t make anything, they don’t pay any income tax. Russek feels property taxes are one of the most unfair taxes.
Tom McGregor, Maple Lake, said they have a 50% increase in property taxes. He said he would piggyback on previous comments made. He feels the State’s slush fund should be removed and accountability would then be at the local level. That would allow people to come to the local level and voice that they would like smaller government. McGregor said a place to start at the local level would be with the Bertram Chain of Lakes project. He asked for the total expenditures on this project. Sawatzke stated that amount will depend on grant matches. Some grants, the State pays 50% and the City and County each fund 25%. The next grant they are looking at will require the State to pay 90% and the City and County would each fund 5%. McGregor referenced a grant from a few months ago and asked how that affects local property tax. Sawatzke said in 2012, there are no levy dollars involved with the Bertram Chain of Lakes project. McGregor asked about prior years. Sawatzke responded there has never been anything earmarked for the purchase. McGregor asked where the local money comes from for that purchase. Sawatzke said a substantial amount has come from reserve funds but some has come from park dedication funds. McGregor asked where reserve funds come from. Sawatzke said they are taxpayer dollars. Sawatzke said McGregor’s question was about the impact on the levy. McGregor clarified that he asked about local property tax dollars. Sawatzke said he thought the question related to the 2012 levy, and his answer was there is nothing earmarked in the 2012 budget for Bertram Chain of Lakes project. McGregor asked whether anyone knew the amount of dollars expended for the project. Sawatzke responded they had nothing earmarked in the levy for it. There were expenditures but did not have that information with him. The County expends in many different areas and he would be unable to just state those from memory. Thelen said the total price is approximately $6 million but the impact on local property tax will depend on matching grants. They hope to obtain Legacy grant funding. McGregor felt he had read in the past that there would be a total outlay of about $20 million. Sawatzke said the total price is $20.5 million from all funding sources. McGregor asked for a ballpark estimate of the County’s contribution. Thelen and Sawatzke said that would be about $5 million, depending on what grant funding is received. McGregor asked how much park land the County owns. Sawatzke was unsure and the Parks Administrator was not present at the meeting to address that question.
Jim Anderson, Rockford Township, does not mind paying a reasonable increase on a normal basis. His property values went down and he received an 88.8% increase, which he viewed as obsessive. Russek asked whether Anderson’s property received a classification change. Anderson said it was moved from Agricultural to Residential. The taxable market value reduced. Sawatzke said the County’s levy increase was 1.6%. If Anderson incurred an 88.6% increase, it had to do with other things. Anderson said he has a 130 year old home and was unsure where the increase came from. Sawatzke said it comes from the change in classification. He owns a 100 year old home and received a change in classification. He used to pay $1,000 and now he pays $3,000.
Joe Holthaus, Monticello Township, said he has farmed and paid taxes for 25 years. He said he does not demand any more services from the County than he did 25 years ago, yet he pays $4,000-$5,000 in taxes. He supports a 10% cut. He said the County is going to run everyone out of business.
Maurice Carlson, Silver Creek Township, worked in government for 30 years. He understands how budgets work. He said that everyone is shooting the messenger here rather than addressing where the problems come from. However, the County Board is who the residents need to talk to. He said the larger government is, the more waste there is. He did not feel it was as bad at the County level as at the State or Federal levels. Carlson said he would take less services and feels the Corrections budget is too high. Carlson owns a hobby farm on Lake Maria, including woods, water and a large abandoned County gravel pit. His classification changed to Residential/Agricultural and he no longer qualifies for Green Acres. Carlson has a 1604.2% increase in his taxes. Maurice said he improved his home and many of the buildings reflecting a 19.9% increase. He is willing to do without some services rather than pay this kind of increase. He said it is unfair to give him a 1600% increase and the next person a 2% increase. Carlson understands the County Board is caught in the problems that occurred from the State’s budget. Carlson supports the comments made about cuts. Carlson said he can see a small increase but 1604.2% is steep. He said he wasn’t really paying much before. It still isn’t that much but he can’t make enough on the property to afford the increase. The County turned him down when he wanted to put a building site on the gravel pit. He said the County indicated that 3.4 acres was not a large enough area for a house. He said he is glad the County has his interests in mind.
Dean Guida, City of Buffalo, asked about the County’s labor negotiations for the upcoming year. Russek said labor negotiations will occur with seven unions starting December 12, 13 and 14. Guida asked how the Board will approach this, whether they typically approve three-year contracts. Russek said that is what they like to do. Guida asked whether the County is looking at a zero increase for three years. Sawatzke said due to labor laws, the County can’t vocalize their labor strategies. He felt it fair to say there will be no money in the 2012 budget for employee cost of living adjustments. Guida asked what the contracts were set at for the previous three years. Sawatzke said they were set at 2.5% per year and that was done prior to the fall of the economy.
Pat Holthaus said this is the third year she has attended this meeting. People need to get involved. Holthaus conveyed that she appreciates what the Board is doing and understands they are in a tough situation. She feels people are saying that they can do without some government services. When she looks at the impacts on the budget, she always sees labor costs as number one. Last year, the County couldn’t do anything about labor costs because of a negotiated union contract. However, she strongly urged the Board to not start negotiating at a 0% increase but rather a 10% decrease. Negotiating can continue from there. She said she was pulled over because her headlight was out and it took three deputies to tell her that. She feels Wright County is heavy on personnel. Holthaus feels the process is flawed when department heads are told to leave the budget as is. She felt the Board should have asked for a 10% cut. People are hurting and the Commissioners are probably hurting too. People cannot continue to be victims and blame the State; people must be proactive and think in a different way. There are things that can be done. She said the budget needs to be cut. Last year, the budget was kept under $1 million and Holthaus said she appreciated that. Holthaus suggested the County look at labor costs, the tandem trucks, and other cuts. The County could look at only replacing one tandem truck instead of three or running them for 15 years. For future budget processes, she suggested the Board state there will be a 10% cut and departments can be asked for input on where these cuts will occur. Holthaus believes there are some services that can be cut so people can continue to support their families rather than giving it all to the government.
Rob Kramer, Franklin Township, questioned the $650,000 in labor costs if there are no cost of living adjustments built into the budget for 2012. Russek said the cost relates to employee movement on the Salary Schedule. This is per union contract. Kramer asked whether this amount includes medical. Sawatzke said it does. Sawatzke said costs also relate to vacation balance payout for retirees. Employees can carry over a specified amount of vacation annually; otherwise, it is not paid out. Kramer referred to the tandem truck replacement schedule every 12 years. He asked whether this is done by mileage. Wayne Fingalson, Highway Engineer, said the average miles on the tandem trucks when they are replaced is 180,000-210,000. They have 21 trucks in the fleet. They strive to keep the trucks on the road, as it is all about level of service to keep the roads plowed. They do not want the trucks in the shop being repaired. They utilize 20 of the 21 trucks (1 spare). The trucks are replaced on this schedule because of the body rust which occurs due to the salt and environment they are in.
The meeting adjourned at 7:15 P.M.
Published in the Herald Journal Jan. 9, 2012.

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