The Winona County Board approved a $44.8 million 2013 budget last week, representing a six percent decrease in county property taxes from 2012.
The county will collect about $1 million less in county property tax dollars than in 2012, made possible by the use of Capital Improvement Program (CIP) reserve dollars. The CIP reserves were recently increased by more than $4 million after commissioners voted to put flood infrastructure repair reimbursement money from the state into that fund.
During that board meeting earlier this month, commissioner Marcia Ward wondered why budget reductions were not detailed in financial documents to reflect the reduced property tax levy, pointing out that an ambiguous revenue source labeled “other non-operating reserves” was used to balance the budget.
County Administrator Duane Hebert said the fund, which contains more than $2 million, was a “catch all” depository for several revenue streams that were hard to anticipate. Sometimes, he said, there is “lag time” after a county employee leaves or retires before a replacement is hired, which saves the county money. Other revenue sources that might be used, he added, include dividends from the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust, as well as any “revenues over expenditures” at the end of the year—money collected from taxpayers over and above what is needed for the year. The CIP reserve dollars are also expected to be used in order to cover the rest of the property tax cut.
Commissioner Jim Pomeroy said that when board members studied earlier draft budgets, they could have indicated areas where they wanted budget cuts to be made. He said it is problematic to simply instruct county administrators to “red-line” any areas they want to.
Ward proposed that the next year’s budget planning include some budget study sessions in which commissioners would have an opportunity to look at individual budget areas together to find areas where revenue streams could be enhanced and expenditures could be reduced.
The board approved the use of $25,000 from the CIP reserves to help cover the cost of a new Information Technology (IT) department employee.
The new employee is expected to assist with the coordination of the Electronic Document Management System (EDMS). EDMS is a program that allows for various county departments and programs to digitally create, store and maintain applications, records, and other documents. The county has implemented the program in several departments and is expanding its use to others. It will also be the “host” county for the EDMS program for use by Fillmore and Houston counties, which is expected to create efficiencies and streamline documents throughout related departments and services.
In a 3-2 vote, the board opted to table a request for $180,000 in CIP funds for “succession planning” until it could hear more information about the plan. Hebert told the board that some vacant county positions can be difficult to fill and that training new staff members in certain areas before current employees retire would save money over time. Board members Wayne Valentine, Ward and Pomeroy voted to table the request and asked Hebert to bring forward specifics about what positions he wanted to fill using the money.