The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners met for the first of two budget planning work sessions on Friday, August 20, with the next one to be held at the Courthouse on Friday, August 27 at 8 a.m.

In July, the County stated a $4.8 million budget shortfall, the largest shortfall in a number of years. The shortfall comes after a long year of heightened attorney fees due to the lawsuit against the County, sheriff and county attorney filed by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe over policing and the reservation boundaries. The County has spent in total over $6 million in attorney costs to defend themselves. Boarding revenue is also down due to the jail taking less inmates due to COVID-19 restrictions, and overtime is up significantly in the jail due to the shortage of workers.

Comparatively, the budget shortfall year-to-date in 2020 was $2.8 million, year-to-date in 2019 was $2.3 million, and year-to-date in 2018 was $698,884. Commissioner Phil Peterson noted in a previous meeting that the shortfall was also a result of not raising the levy in past years to keep up with the rising wage and cost of living increases.

The 2021 levy totaled $17,943,445 which is a 4.9% increase from 2020’s levy. The total budget for the county for 2021 is $42,056,764.

The 2022 proposed budget is $44,699,513. A levy increase of 19.5% would be at total of $21,483,686 resulting in approximately $637 in payable annual property tax (the County’s portion of taxes) for a $100,000 home.

Reserves down

On hand to facilitate the meeting was interim county coordinator, Lisa Herges. And perhaps bringing stability back to the County was newly hired auditor-treasurer, Dillon Hayes, who will take over the reigns as county coordinator and who served in the capacity of environmental resources director for Mille Lacs County, and more recently as the county administrator for Kittson County.

Herges noted that the County’s reserves are down significantly and should be anywhere from 30-50% of the County’s annual operating expenses. Hayes stated that the general fund balance hovers around 12.5% to date.

Closed session

Board chair, Dave Oslin, stated that a closed meeting would be held to examine the attorney fees associated with defending themselves in the lawsuit. Currently, $750,000 is budgeted for attorney fees related to the lawsuit.

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