By Dan Linehan
---- — 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.
The project, now estimated at $11 million but expected to cost less, will be paid for entirely by borrowing.
Even including the new loan, the county’s payments on debt are expected to rise by only 4 percent, about $78,000, next year. That’s in part due to some old loans being paid off. The county will also save about $155,000 a year that it now pays to rent space.
Last week, the county approved a contract worth $47,600 to demolish the theater that now occupies the land. That demolition is slated to start Thursday.
The commissioners briefly discussed the design of the forthcoming county building. There seemed to be general agreement that the current, glass-heavy façade could be toned down a bit.
County employees’ health insurance rates are rising by a relatively modest 8 percent in 2014. The county will pay the whole increase for single employees ($420 per person) and half of the increase for family plans ($600 per family).
The county is also planning a salary increase of 2 percent, which Krosch said is a popular number for counties in 2014.
This story has been edited to reflect the following correction:
An Aug. 22 article on Page B1, "Nicollet County to tap reserves," contained an error. Though Nicollet County's social services staffing budget will indeed be rising by an estimated $500,000 next year, the story implied this increase is due to the staffing necessary to implement the Affordable Care Act. The ACA, however, is only responsible for about $16,000 of the increase.