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County Board talks budget

Commissioners spend all day hearing staff requests

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Aug 29, 2021

The 2022 budget was the subject of discussion at a work session held by the Faribault County Board on Tuesday, Aug. 24.

County department heads came to the County Board room at the courthouse to review the current year’s financial figures and talk about their budget projections for the upcoming year.

This was just the first step in formulating the 2022 budget. More meetings will be held before the budget is finalized and the county tax levy is set.

“The preliminary budget is set in September,” county auditor, Darren Esser explained. “The final budget is not certified until December.”

Commissioners began the day looking at a 5.9 percent budget increase.

“By the time the day was over, the increase was up to 7.9 percent,” Esser said. “Now the board will work on trimming the budget increase to a lower percentage.”

One of the items in the proposed budget presented by Central Services director Lexie Scholten was for a new Camera Aided Mass Appraisal (CADA) system at a cost of $30,000.

“The assessor’s office is where the whole tax process starts. It is where the values on property are set,” Esser commented. “The system currently in use is an old DOS system from the 1980s.”

The proposed Public Works budget is about $3.3 million dollars less than the current year.

“But, that is mostly due to the federal aid received this year which we will not be receiving next year,” Public Works director Mark Daly said.

Daly said his department would like to replace two snowplows, at a cost of $250,000 each before trade, next year.

“We delayed replacing a snow plow next year and kept the money in the roads,” Daly stated. “We have two units and we are spending a great deal of time and money keeping them on the road.”

An overlay on the Unity Trail was also included in the budget at an estimated cost of $90,000.

“The price of oil affects the cost of bituminous so much which can result in quite a price swing,” Daly said.

Commissioners also reviewed a report on the condition of pavements in the county using the Pavement Quality Index (PQI).

“We have made progress in the last five years in improving our highways,” Daly mentioned. “Our average PQI has increased from 66 to 73 over that time period.”

As of 2021, 39 percent of the county’s highways have a PQI score of 80 or more (good condition), according to the report.

“We also have 41 percent of the paved highways in poor condition with a PQI of less than 60,” Daly commented. “We basically have 121 miles of highway in poor condition. Under the current five-year plan we would resurface 62 of those miles.”

The question was raised if the county needed to bond to speed up the process of improving the roads.

“Current interest rates are certainly attractive,” commissioner Bruce Anderson noted.

Board members decided to move on to other topics and discuss the possibility of bonding for road upgrades at a later time.

Sheriff Mike Gormley and Chief Deputy Scott Adams were on hand to review the Sheriff’s Department and Law Enforcement Center budgets.

“Do we have adequate mental health training for our officers?” board member Bill Groskreutz inquired.

“We do have money in our budget for training,” Gormley replied. “Much of the training has been completed online because of COVID.”

The budget for the Sheriff’s Department included money to replace three squad vehicles and the equipment which goes in them, at a projected cost of $99,500.

“We are still having problems getting the equipment for the squads,” Adams shared.

Another item in the budget included money for bullet-proof vests in the amount of $7,800.

“The vests are at the end of their five-year life cycle,” Gormley said. “The cost of the vests is actually split 50-50 with the state of Minnesota.”

Faribault County Recorder Sheryl Asmus did not have many changes in her budget. She said her office processed about 1,600 requests for new passports or passport cards and another 800 for renewals.

“Beginning in May of 2022, you will need an enhanced driver’s license or a passport card to fly so it is leading to an increase in people applying for their passport card,” Asmus reported. “It actually can be easier to get a passport card than an enhanced license.”

Veteran Services Officer (VSO) Jenna Schmidtke attended the work session and noted a capital outlay increase of $54,000 in the VSO proposed budget.

“This is for a van to transport our veterans,” she explained. “It had actually been scheduled to be purchased earlier but we were not putting as many miles on our vehicles due to COVID.”

She was asked if finding drivers for the vans had been a problem.

“We have enough drivers,” Schmidtke replied. “Being able to be vaccinated has made the drivers feel more comfortable in their job.”

Building and Grounds supervisor Troy Beckman was also on hand to lead a review of his department’s budget, which included an increase of over $23,000 in the capital outlay section.

“Troy’s department is one that needs a lot of flexibility built into it,” Esser reminded the commissioners.

Next, the commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 31, to hold a work session on the distribution of ARP (American Rescue Plan) funds. The ability to use these funds may have an affect on overall budget discussions.