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Preliminary levy fails to find votes with Wadena County Board

Proposed 10.74% levy increase discussed.

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A preliminary Wadena County budget failed to pass showing a 10.74% increase over 2022.
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In a split 2-2 vote, the Wadena County Board failed to approve a preliminary levy of 10.74% for 2023 at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Reasons for the preliminary increases were largely focused on payroll increases. Several departments, Public Health, Building Fund and Road and Bridge all showed no increase to the preliminary budgets. Human Services showed the largest increase of 28.85% or $586,455.

Human Services director Jennifer Westrum shared that they experienced a significant decrease in revenues over recent years; increased use of services and increased payroll costs.

"Being one of the larger departments, we have to figure out a way to cover those increases," Westrum said.
"It's just a darn tough situation," Commissioner Murlyn Kreklau said of Wadena County's situation, being geographically disadvantaged.

The unknowns of health insurance cost increases adds to the frustrations. It was noted health insurance costs may not be known until the end of September.

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Voting in favor of accepting the preliminary levy were Commissioners Mike Weyer and Sheldon Monson; opposing were Murlyn Kreklau and Jon Kangas. Commissioner Bill Sterns was absent.

The commissioners that opposed the preliminary levy suggested cutting costs, and noted ideas for such actions had been submitted. However, no dialogue came from it. The recommendation to look at potential cuts was made again.

The board was notified the deadline for submitting the preliminary levy is Sept. 30, and while the levy amount can go down before the final levy is set in December, it cannot be increased.

The opposing commissioners explained they would like to review the proposal again at their next meeting, as more numbers may be present with health care or wage contracts, which have yet to be finalized.

Because the vote was tied, the motion to accept the preliminary levy failed. The remaining Wadena County Board meetings in September are set for Sept. 13 and Sept. 20.

Kreklau summarized the situation as, "This county board is in a tough situation, but our residents are in a tougher situation. You drive around and you see the poverty out there."

Kangas noted that Todd County was looking at just a quarter percent levy increase. He felt they should consider cutting services as he felt an 11% increase was unacceptable.

Jailer/dispatch contract approved

The Law Enforcement Labor Services Jailer Dispatcher, Non-Licensed Essential Unit Labor Contract was approved, but with some opposition.

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The 2022 to 2024 contract was reported to come with a 26.6% increase to the county.

In 2021, the jailer and dispatch budget was reported to be $593,169. The contract called for 2022 (which would be retroactive) to provide employees a 14.2% increase, bumping the budget to $677,344.33. The 2023 contract shows a 6.4% increase for a total of $720,437 and the final year of the contract, 2024, provides a 6 percent increase for a total $763,318.

Pit to provide 36,000 yards of gravel material annually

Commissioner Jon Kangas said he was a member of the negotiation group and was “not personally happy” with the end result. He added he hasn’t “been with any agreements all year.”

Kangas noted he wasn’t sure what the additional cost of health care insurance would bring the total too.

When the county board voted, Kangas was the sole opposition.

Board asks for expenditures to be provided in categories

Some Wadena County Board members requested the expenditures report be broken down into categories.

One commissioner noted the Sept. 6 meeting check expenditures totaled about $681,000 and included more than 300 transactions. He said reviewing that amount of information was a challenge and thought if the expenditures were categorized to respective departments, it would be easier to see what was being spent where, and ask questions.

Wadena County Auditor/Treasurer Heather Olson wasn’t sure if the software would provide categorized reports. She added every bill is looked at by an accountant, department head, the administrative office and herself.

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It was explained the commentary wasn’t questioning anyone’s integrity, but a request that may also aid in budgeting.

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