The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners met for their regular meeting on Oct. 19 and discussed the budget and potential items that could be decreased or eliminated.
The board asked each department to share which services are compulsory (services that are statutorily mandated) and which services are optional (services that are not mandated).
Currently, the county board is looking at a 24.5% increase over the 2021 levy which will result in $22,339,589 of tax revenue.
Each of the department budgets were reviewed in regards to mandated and non-mandated services. In emergency management, there were no optional services reported. In the economic development office, the only optional service reported was the American Rescue Plan (for COVID fund distribution) committee facilitator. In the assessor’s office, the only optional items are the Region 3 dues and MLS (Multiple Listing Services) subscription.
In public health, the non-mandated services include evidence-based family home visits, WIC (women, infants and children program), the SHIP (state health insurance assistance program) program matching grant funds, the Follow Along Program, and the Local Public Health Grant matching funds.
As for the Sheriff’s Office, Chief Deputy Kyle Burton said, “There are some services we provide that aren’t required by statute, and if we stopped providing them, it wouldn’t affect our budget but would be hard to explain to the community if we didn’t do them.”
Sheriff Don Lorge added, “We do a lot of services that aren’t mandated like vehicle lockouts, lift assists, etc. I could eliminate all of that, but it would still not change the numbers.”
Commissioner Tim Wilhelm questioned, “What if you cut $250,000 from the budget?” Burton replied that it would mean cuts in staff and that the Sheriff’s Office is currently staffed at an adequate level and arrests about 5-15 people per day.
Sheriff Lorge noted, “There are times where you may see deputies standing around … there may not be something going on all the time, but you have to be there when something is going on. We may cost money, but we’re a service.” He added that his office gets about 33 calls per day.
The conversation shifted to the vaccine when Commissioner Dave Oslin said, “We could look at becoming a constitutional county. There are some folks going down that road and I believe it has to do with mandates and vaccines.” Commissioner Peterson added that he believes everyone still has personal choices.
Commissioner Genny Reynolds questioned, “Aren’t we mandated to have our employees vaccinated because we’re over 100 employees?” Mille Lacs County Coordinator Dillon Hayes responded saying they would be required to follow the mandate or they wouldn’t receive certain funds.
The fund balances were then addressed with Wilhelm asking if it would help to drop the reserve funds to a minimum amount. Hayes responded saying, “They are way past the minimum. We’re below zero on our reserves and are not even meeting that right now. After taxes come in, we might be at 5%. We should have $3 million but have about $900,000.” Hayes added that the general fund has money but it is all restricted and spoken for in how they can use them and that Public Works and Community and Veterans Services are in good shape.
“We as a board approved an unbalanced budget, and I don’t know why we would do that,” said Wilhelm.
Hayes responded, “Part of it is the legal fees but not all of it. There are cumulative factors in the budgeting process … which is why I’m budgeting more for 2022 and trying to really dial in where to spend and on what is actually spent.”
Hayes asked, “Is a 20 million dollar levy something you’re comfortable with? No one has heard of anything that high ever. Another county had a 17% levy increase.”
Hayes told the board that the County now has a website page dedicated to the budget. The page can be found at https://www.millelacs.mn.gov/2768/Mille-Lacs-County-Budget-2022. On this page, the public can find graphs showing inflation over time and the levy over various years.
“The graph shows years we weren’t keeping up with inflation,” said Hayes. “There are also graphs showing out-of-home placement costs with tribal and non-tribal impact.”
Commissioner Phil Peterson noted, “A 25% levy increase does not mean taxes are going up 25%.” Hayes added that it would equate to about a 10% increase.
The truth in taxation meeting will be held on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. with the regular board meeting being held just prior to that at 5 p.m. Staff from the county assessor’s office will be on hand to talk with residents regarding their valuations. The County’s final levy will be approved at the December 21 regular board meeting at 9 a.m.