The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

August 21, 2013

Nicollet County to tap reserves

Levy limit prevents tax hike

ST. PETER — Levy limits will prevent Nicollet County from raising its tax levy by more than a few percent for 2014.

But the county plans on tapping at least $1.2 million in reserves, in part to pay for staff overtime to administer a rush of applications for health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act.

Commissioner Jack Kolars said Wednesday during a budget work session that this is the sort of “rainy day” reserves are meant for.

“ … if we’re spending it on reducing taxes, that’s a good thing,” he said.

The county has budgeted an increase of about $500,000 in staffing costs for social services. A small part of that increase, about 3 percent, is attributable to a short-term increase in new cases driven by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The county plans to use overtime to pay for those costs for now, but it may have to hire new employees in the future, County Administrator Ryan Krosch said.

The increase didn’t go unnoticed by the board.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an increase like that in social services before,” Commissioner James Stenson said.

Though the county received an extra $250,000 or so in county aid from the state, it was also hit with levy limits that cap its levy increase at 3 percent, minus the new aid. The county has $268,000 to raise its levy before hitting the cap.

But, as previously noted, it plans on spending more than that through the use of reserves.

Though the current budget shows $1.2 million in use of reserves, that figure will likely have to rise. Even including the reserve drawdown, the budget still shows a social services increase of about $700,000. That’s far too much increase for levy limits to allow, so more reserve drawdown appears likely.

The county’s biggest construction project of 2014 — a new building next to the Government Center to consolidate county operations in one block — has little impact on the budget.

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