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Shift builds general fund revenue

The Wadena County Board approved a shift in funds from the road and bridge levy to the general levy to preserve a $233,344 special levy in the general fund rather than exacting further cuts on department budgets.

Commissioner Bill Stearns presented the idea at the county's second adjourned meeting Dec. 29.

He explained that, even though it isn't as much as the state would like, the highway department has built up enough of a reserve so that some of its revenue can be put in the general levy.

The general fund balance is low, and the state auditor's office has criticized the county for it, he said.

By moving $123,338 from the road and bridge levy to the general levy the county will still keep $233,344 revenue in excess of expenditures for the 2010 budget not counting possible future state unallotments.

"By taking levy revenue from highway and putting it into the general levy we're kind of taking the rabbit out of the hat for right now," Stearns said.

The total county levy remains the same, he said.

The board intended when it approved the preliminary levy with a 3.23 percent increase that the $233,344 special levy, which accounted for much of the increase, would be used to boost the fund balance. Commissioners discovered at an earlier December meeting that the revenue in excess of expenditures would not be as much as anticipated. The special levy is a one-time opportunity the state is allowing counties for the amount of unallotments they received in 2009.

The $233,344 levy is not a part of the 2010 budget, Stearns said, and won't become a part of the county's levy base. It will go into reserves or help cover future unallotments.

Commissioner Rodney Bounds asked Assistant Engineer Jeff Adolphson if the levy shift would hurt the highway department.

Adolphson said no. This year is kind of a unique opportunity, he said.

"We've got some savings and a lot of it is generated by savings in staff," he said.

The highway department eliminated one seasonal maintenance position, had two retirements through the early retirement incentive program, has one employee on unpaid leave for at least the next several months and is currently without a highway engineer, Adolphson said. The department has also made cuts to its sign budget and equipment budget.

"So cumulatively all those items do provide this opportunity without hurting the highway department significantly," he said.

The county had looked into trimming the $123,000 from the preliminary 2010 budget. Stearns and Chairman Dave Schermerhorn met with department heads Dec. 22 to brainstorm possible cuts.

Stearns said that departments won't get a pass when it comes to possible cuts this year. The Minnesota Department of Revenue released a notice indicating Wadena County may face $203,000 in unallotments in the new year, Stearns said.

"We don't know whether it's going to be $200,000, it could be $400,000," he said. "We don't know what they're going to do."

The management team will continue to further reduce 2010 budgets during the next six months when the county knows what the state unallotment will be, according to a summary of the budget discussion from the department head meeting.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the final 2009 levy for taxes payable in 2010 at $7,680,053 with Bounds voting nay. The board approved the final 2010 revenue/ expenditure budgets unanimously.