By Craig Moorhead
The Caledonia Argus
On Dec. 21, Houston County commissioners finalized their tax levy for 2022.
At 3% higher than 2021, the levy totals $13,933,838, which will be lessened by $1,058,111 in County Program Aid from the State of Minnesota, resulting in a total of $12,875,727 that will be assessed on taxable property.
Commissioners also adopted their 2022 operating budget. That document lists $29,929,397 in revenues, and $29,970,665 in expenditures, so the budget includes an anticipated deficit of $41,268. “We would be looking at (unassigned) fund balance to cover that,” finance director Carol Lapham reported.
The board approved a proposed three-year (2022-2024) labor agreement with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local #49, AFL-CIO. That pact will terminate the current (2021-2023) agreement with the union at the end of 2021 by mutual consent, which had left the question of wage increases for 2022 and 2023 open. The new agreement sets across-the-board wage increases at 2% for 2022, 3% for 2023, and 3% for 2024.
The agreement is likely to set a precedent for pending contracts with other county labor unions.
Commissioners also set 2022 salaries for three elected positions at 2% higher than 2021. County attorney Samuel Jandt will be paid $120,803, county sheriff Mark Inglett $109,750, and auditor/treasurer Donna Trehus $89,419.
The board placed all non-represented employees on an initial pay grid at “the next closest step that is equal to or greater than their current 2021 hourly rate,” and provided an across the board 2% cost of living allowance raise for those workers as well. Temporary/seasonal workers, Veterans Service drivers, and Sheriff’s Office transport drivers will also receive 2% raises in 2022.
The board adopted a resolution which will allow their auditor/treasurer to apply for a “VEGA 3” (voting equipment grant application) to pay 50% of the cost of an optical scanner for Money Creek Township to use for elections. The new DS200 ballot counter is priced at $5,540, according to county officials. If the grant is approved, Money Creek Township will provide the other half of the required funding.
Another vote provided a property tax abatement for the Sunrise Care Facility at 551 S. Division Ave. in Spring Grove. The parcel should have been tax-exempt in a recent filing, county assessor Lucas Onstad reported.
The board approved a conditional use permit for Shawn Allen to construct a 40 by 60 foot storage building in a residential district in La Crescent Township. Allen also obtained zoning variances for that project from the Houston County Board of Adjustment.
Commissioner Bob Burns reported that a Federal Aviation Administration grant proposal which could provide funds to help purchase seven acres in order to move some hangers further away from the runway/apron area and build additional hangers has encountered some difficulties.
“The FAA is a little bit concerned with the amount of acres that we’re proposing to acquire for airport expansion,” Burns said, “thinking that the acres that we’re looking to buy is more than we need for the 20-year plan.” The expansion may need to be curtailed to “five or six acres,” with somewhat fewer hangers, Burns added.
The new infrastructure plan that the President has signed “also provides infrastructure money for airports,” Burns stated. “Our airport qualifies, so we will get an additional - besides the $150,000 in yearly FAA funds that we get now - we’ll get an additional $110,000 per year for five years... That is going to assist as far as the moving of hangers to expand to open space next to the runway.”
An exact reduction in the acres qualified for federal funds has not yet been determined, Burns noted. Some commissioners wondered aloud if the county could move forward with a small land purchase of their own, in order to have additional space available for airport expansion in the future.