Wright County commisssioners approve 2013 budget, levy

It had been at least 20 years since a board chair had passed the gavel to make a second to a motion that seemed destined to fail. At the Dec. 11 meeting of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, it happened for the second time in two meetings as the board was asked to approve the county’s 2013 budget and levy.
County Coordinator Dick Norman laid out the specifics of the budget, which will be $102,850,890 in 2013, and the levy, which will be $50,550,634 – saying that discussions reduced the budget and the levy remained the same by reducing the public’s share of the cost by eliminating $464,000 that had been budgeted for unfilled vacancies in various county departments.
“The final draft budget and levy take into account a couple of changes discussed at the Truth in Taxation hearing,” Norman said. “The changes made reduced the amount of the levy by reducing the unfilled vacancies portion of department budgets to keep the levy figure the same.”
However, getting approval of the budget wouldn’t be easy. Commissioner Pat Sawatzke moved to approve the budget by reducing it by $99,000 – the amount of the salary and benefits that were budgeted to hire a human resources director in the administration department. Sawatzke contended that the position isn’t needed because many of the job duties for that position are already being handled in the administration department. When his motion didn’t get a second, Board Chair Rose Thelen passed the gavel to make a second.
As expected, the other three commissioners voted against the motion. Once it failed, Commissioner Jack Russek proposed accepting the budget and levy as presented. The motion passed 4-1, with Sawatzke voting against it. Sawatzke pointed out that his opposition wasn’t the budget as a whole, just the inclusion of the human resources director position. In other items on the Dec. 11 agenda, the board:
• By a 3-2 vote, approved setting the salary for county attorney Tom Kelly at $119,446. Sawatzke said it was “unjust and unfair” that Kelly, the highest-paid county employee, to get a raise when the vast majority of county employees received no pay increase for 2013. Russek voted to approve the salary, but added that, if the county didn’t approve the approximately $2,000 increase, Kelly had indicated he would sue the county. Russek said spending $20,000 to defend the case, which the county would likely lose, didn’t make sense when the fight would be over $2,000.
• Set the following salaries for 2013: Auditor/Treasurer ($112,862), sheriff ($112,862) and county commissioners ($36,527). County commissioner salaries have remained the same for the past five years.
• Approved a three-year agreement with the University of Minnesota to provide extension services to Wright County through 2015.
• Held a public hearing to approve amendments to the county’s water surface use ordinance. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had asked the county to amend its ordinance to bring the no-wake restrictions on Lake Ann to be in line with the other lakes that approved slow/no wake ordinances. In addition, the county added Pleasant Lake to the list of lakes that are covered under the ordinance.
• Approved retaining Dr. Quin Strobl as the county’s medical examiner.
• Received an update from the Wright County Fair Board concerning the inclusion of mud bog racing at the 2013 county fair. Ron Denn of the county fair board said the county is looking to entice a younger audience to the county fair and that such events would help draw in the 18-30 demographic more than is currently being addressed. Last year 64,000 people attended the county fair.
• Approved moving forward with proposed changes to the county’s agreement with Corinna Township concerning shoreland zoning authority. In November, the county rejected a request from the township to take over shoreland zoning, countering with a five-year offer for the county and township to work together. The Corinna Township Board rejected that. Instead, the township asked that the joint powers agreement be changed to a memorandum of understanding for insurance reasons and to reduce the proposed agreement to one year. No official action was taken other than to authorize the county attorney’s office to prepare new documentation to present to the board at a future meeting.
• By a 3-2 vote, approved signatures on a purchase agreement for another land parcel in the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park project. The county’s local match is $204,000. As has happened with every land purchase request, Commissioners Russek and Dick Mattson voted against the purchase.
• Approved 2014-15 assessment rates, keeping them at the current rate of $10.50 per parcel. The county does assessment work for 10 cities and five townships in the county.
• Received a one-year extension on a ditch modernization grant obtained from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. The grant, which was approved in March, 2011, was intended to be expended by the end of 2012, but the county was granted a one-year extension to expend the $53,000 in funding.
• Authorized signatures on a project that logs phone calls made to the county’s 911 emergency system through the Central Minnesota Emergency Services Board. Since the county had already purchased some of the needed equipment prior to joining in the multi-county project, in lieu of expending money to be part of the program, the county donated some of its equipment to cover its costs.