By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

On September 24, Houston County commissioners set their 2020 preliminary budget and levy. The proposed levy includes a 5% increase over 2019.

The preliminary levy also sets a limit on property tax increases that can appear on the certified (payable) levy, which must be set before the end of 2019. Between the end of September and then, the board may choose to cut the levy increase, or certify it as-is.

Budget requests for 2020 grew by 6.367% over 2019.  Finance director Carol Lapham reported that the net levy wound up at $12,147,082 in 2019, and the proposed increase would raise that amount to an estimated $12,697,944. The net levy total is decreased by $1,092,734 in county program aid.

Houston County’s total preliminary budget was also approved, at $30,510,569.

Following a public hearing, commissioners also approved  a new Houston County fee schedule. That document filled nearly five pages of line items, and included some new categories as well as a number of increases. Examples include a $100 increase ($400 to $500) for a public hearing on a variance or zoning appeal, and a $200 increase ($500 to $700) for a public hearing on a conditional use permit, interim use permit, rezone, or ordinance amendment. A new charge listed under “Surveyor” is $525 for county-wide digital aerial imagery on a county-provided storage device.

On a related note, the board approved a new contract agreement for aerial imagery. The pact between Pictometry International Corp. (listed as a Delaware corporation on the document), the Minnesota Counties Computer Cooperative and Houston County totals $57,134 for each of two projects, covering the entirety of Houston County. One of those sets of images will be completed in 2020, while the second will be done in 2023. The contract includes “change finder” flagging to pinpoint differences (such as new buildings), and a  “disaster response program” feature to update up to 200 square miles at no additional charge in case of a catastrophic event (such as a tornado touchdown or an earthquake).

Commissioners also approved a yearly update to the county’s five year bridge replacement priority list. County engineer Brian Pogodzinski said that the bridges which actually get replaced - and when – really depends on when State and Federal dollars become available for the individual projects. Five spans top the list, with 2020 proposed construction dates. They are located on: Eitzen Creek Drive ($450,110), Lorenz Road ($173,423), Prairie Ridge Road ($450,110), Gates Coulee Drive ($331,660), and Looney Valley Road ($870,350). The five year total cost estimate includes 16 bridges at $7,480,705.

Another “Towards Zero Deaths” traffic safety grant agreement was approved. The first, totaling $12,941, was associated with Houston County Public Health, and was approved on September 10. The second will go to the Houston County Sheriff’s Department, totals $13,100, and will pay for several enforcement projects as well as dispatch and conference expenses.

Another reimbursement grant for the Sheriff’s Department was approved as well. This one, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, will provide up to $4,794 in both 2020 and 2021 towards an “off highway vehicle” enforcement program. 

Under their consent agenda, commissioners approved the hire of William Gavin as a probationary jailer/dispatcher, conditioned upon the successful completion of a background check. The resignation of jailer/dispatcher Tyler Fabian was accepted, and two additional jailer/dispatchers will be sought to  fill vacancies. Under the board’s “action items” agenda, a competitive search for an appraiser trainee (or trained appraiser) was also approved.

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