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Wadena County Commission: Final county levy increases 2.89 percent

Wadena County staff and commissioners thanked outgoing commissioner Dave Hillukka Tuesday, Dec. 18 for his eight years of serving as county commissioner (2011-20180. Those pictured include county commissioners Bill Stearns (left), Chuck Horsager, Sheldon Monson, county coordinator Ryan Odden and commissioners Hillukka and Jim Hofer. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Wadena County Commissioners approved a 2019 final levy amount 2.89 percent higher than in 2018 during their regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 18.

The final levy comes in at $9,068,518 with decreases to the Human Services and Road and Bridge levies; no change was noted in the building fund. Public Health showed a 1.45 percent increase from 2018, but Public Health director Cindy Pederson mentioned that their funding requests have not changed since 2011. Meanwhile, revenue saw a 4.96 percent increase.

The areas that are coming in higher in expenditures include medical supplies for prisoners, court administration, salaries, county attorney costs, facilities and corrections among the many sources, according to commissioner Jim Hofer.

This final levy comes in lower than the preliminary levy approved this fall, which was 4.19 percent increase over 2018. The 2019 final budget came in at $24,686,819 in revenues and $24,445,542 in expenses, a surplus of $241,277.

Incoming auditor Heather Olson, department heads, and county commissioners looked over the budget as assembled last week. Little changes were noted from that time.

In other actions the board approved:

• Solid waste haulers licenses for AAA Rolloff, G&T Sanitation, Hough Inc., Steve's Sanitation, Wadena Hide & Fur and Waste Management for solid waste and recycling hauler licenses. Long Prairie Sanitation was approved subject to county legal counsel approving of payment options. Long Prairie Sanitation bought out City Dray this fall but it was unclear if City Dray or LPS would take on the debt that City Dray had incurred. The county wanted to make sure the debt was paid off either by the new owner or previous owner.

• Tobacco licenses for Orton's in Menahga, Lakes Area Cooperative and Dollar General in Menahga.

• A compensatory time cash-out policy, which allows employees to cash out up to 50 percent of their accumulated compensatory time twice a year, in July and December. This was only an option, not mandatory. Staff saw it as win-win both for employees looking to take the money instead of the time and for the county which would end up paying out at lower rates if done more often. The policy was effective immediately.

• Moving ahead with applying for funding to replace an existing Wadena County Transit bus using excess state funding. The county may pay for 20 percent of the cost, but if enough money is available, the state could pay for 100 percent of the cost, according to Randy Janke, Friendly Rider transit director.

• A memorandum of agreement indicating a commitment to participate in the Redeye One Watershed One Plan process, partnering with Otter Tail and Becker counties to implement the plan.

• A 3-percent increase to county commissioners base salary, for a total of $16,179, and to the additional pay for the chair for a total of $1,471. The per diem for commissioners was set at $100.

• A 2019 wage schedule, which reflected a 2 percent increase from the 2018 wage grid as determined by a market study. The approval set in motion a 2 percent cost of living increase in wages for all jobs. Wages for all employees increases by 2 percent; employees will receive step increases on their individual anniversaries during the year; and employees transition into a new plan, resulting in a wage increase for most employees. Those compensated above the wage grid will be compensated 1 percent annually until they are in the wage grid. Additional cash compensation will also be given Jan. 1 prorated as needed for those already in the process of earning an increase on their next five-year incremental anniversary.

The board also:

• Heard from Sheriff Mike Carr about SWAT equipment the sheriff's office was planning to receive. The Sheriff's office had the funds to cover a portion of costs needed, so no board action was required. The equipment would replace the counties 1978 Peacekeeper with likely a 2010 model.

• Reviewed courthouse drawings put together by commissioner Bill Stearns. The drawings created a vision of what the remodeling may look like. Commissioners liked the plan but wanted to wait for a structural plan to be completed soon before taking action on further facility changes. Contractors are set to begin demolition of a portion of the courthouse in February for a bathroom remodel project.

• Heard the latest on a committee focused on Trauma Informed Care. The board approved forming a charter for the committee. The vision of the group was to create relationships that include kindness, acceptance, accountability, trust and safety.