Even though it’s early in the year, Sherburne County officials are already looking at potential impacts to the 2015 budget.
During a workshop with the county commissioners Tuesday, Administrator Steve Taylor discussed some of the issues the county will be facing when it attempts to set the budget later this year.
Taylor said there are some good signs and some “headwinds” to consider.
“First the good news,” he said. “We’ve had five years of either flat or negative levy growth since 2010.”
Taylor said the number of building permits has been increasing in the past few years, indicating an upswing in the economy. Revenues from permits in the townships hit $431,393 in 2013, almost reaching the 2008 level of $449,542.
During the first quarter of 2014 there were six new home permits with a valuation of $1,384,000 compared with one permit at $353,000 a year ago.
Home values are increasing, which means a projected increase in tax capacity.
The number of foreclosures saw a dramatic decrease in 2013, from 694 to 359 as Sherburne County went from second highest in the state to sixth.
The county’s debt dropped from $23.7 million to $18.3 million, compared with Wright County ($54.3M), Stearns County ($21.8M) and Anoka County ($224.2M).
Fewer properties are going through the tax forfeiture process. The number dropped to 36 in 2013 compared with 170 in 2011 and 2012.
The county’s unemployment rate was 5.5% in December, 2013 compared to 6.4% in Dec. 2012 and 7.3% in 2011.
A new host agreement with Elk River Landfill is expected to bring in $420,000.
Taylor said the county has strong fund balances in 2014: $9.6 million in the general fund, $690,000 in public works operating fund, $11 million in the land and building fund and $2.7 million in the Jail Enterprise fund.
“These balances are the result of prudent spending,” he told the board.
Taylor said in addition to the good news, there are also some “challenges” that the county is facing.
The Great River Regional Library system is considering adding a new library to the system in Sartell. Along with a potential increase in the minimum wage ($11,300) and ACA health insurance requirements ($12,600), the county could be looking at a $62,600 hit in 2015.
Taylor listed a number of expenses that will or might affect the 2015 budget:
• A 14.3% increase in health insurance premiums. The current employer contribution is $833 month per employee, totalling up to $500,000;
• A 2% increase in salaries plus another 1% carryover from last year, which could total $700,000;
• An increase in PERA totalling $52,000;
• A potential new dispatch center for Emergency Operations;
• Post-employment benefits totalling $1.6 million;
• Technology infrastructure upgrades to bring wireless communications to county buildings;
• A cut in MNSure reimbursements;
• A cut of $350,000 from Great River Energy when a five-year agreement expires at the end of 2014.
Taylor said the county may also want to consider not relying on County Program Aid from the state, which has sometimes been reduced in the past.
“We have received almost $3 million in 2013/2014 and we’ve been promised $3.8 million for the next fiscal year,” he said. “The concern is, will this continue in the future? Is the board interested in reducing the base budget so when there’s a million dollar cut, we don’t have lay off a bunch of people?”
Taylor said the good and the bad points will be part of the budget discussions, which begin in another week.
“I though this would help guide us in our 2015 budget process,” he said.