County Board approves preliminary budget

The Chisago County Board of Commissioners approved a preliminary county budget and property tax levy at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting.

County Administrator Bruce Messelt presented the board with a $54.6 million balanced budget.

He noted the preliminary property tax component of the budget suggested by staff was a $478,851 increase from last year’s final levy, which equates to a 1.5 percent rise.

Messelt explained that the board decreased the levy the previous two years, and the levy amount remained flat the three years prior to the decreases.

By a 3-2 vote, the board approved the budget and levy, with the levy component being higher than what Messelt had suggested — 3.5 percent.

Commissioners Ben Montzka, Rick Greene and George McMahon voted in favor of the budget and the 3.5 percent property tax increase.

Commissioners Lora Walker and Mike Robinson cast dissenting votes.

The board has until the end of September to approve the final county budget and levy.

The levy can be decreased from the preliminary amount approved at last week’s meeting, but it cannot be increased.

Prior to the vote, Robinson presented a budget that had a 3.5 percent levy increase, but he also wanted to explain how that money would be spent.

He said he wanted half of the property tax increase going into the county’s “regular budget” with the other half going to the county highway department for the paving of roads. That motion died for a lack of a second.

Robinson then made a similar motion — a 2.5 percent increase with half of that going to the paving of roads. That motion also failed to garner a second.

Commissioner Lora Walker made a motion to have no increase from last year’s final levy. Her motion also did not have support from a fellow commissioner, but she still spoke to how it could be accomplished after being prompted by Robinson.

She said there is county program aid in the 2015 budget that is being allocated to capital improvement projects that don’t need to be completed next year, and that money could be used in other areas of the budget.

When asked by Robinson what projects she was referring to, Walker named jail construction documents priced at about $532,000 and a jail project design plan costing just over $460,000.

“Our department head (the sheriff) has indicated he’s not pursing those projects,” she said.

Greene said that may be the case, but that doesn’t mean a different sheriff wouldn’t want to look at building a new jail.

“You cannot speak for the next administration,” Greene said.

Walker agreed with that assertion but added a caveat.

“No, we cannot,” she said. “But as a county board, we tax the residents. The county sheriff does not.”

Montzka said Walker raised valid points that should be looked into during the next month before the final budget and levy are approved, and he stressed that the preliminary budget and levy are just that — preliminary; the board still has plenty of time to mull over the budget in detail and determine if more cuts could be made.

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