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Departments present cases for county budget

Work on the new Carlton County budget for 2022 has started, with each department making presentations for their needs during the next budget cycle during the county board meeting Monday.

Increased health insurance and employee salaries are again a focus with more than 400 on the county payroll.

Historically, county program budgets that can have fund balances at the end of the budget year have been used to cushion the need to keep the property tax increase low for the coming year. The county land department and the county recorder’s office, for example, generate revenue to fund their staffing needs and have excess funds to roll into the new budget. Excess funds by December of the current budget year have been also earmarked by the county board from such departments as public health and human services, zoning, and transportation.

During the presentations, county engineer JinYeene Neumann voiced concern that her department will have decreased revenue this next budget year. She explained that this construction season has been robust because a lot of federally funded projects have been going on. The next year will be tight, she forecasted.

Neumann brought up cuts that would save some money. She advised the Kettle River county garage should be closed. The building is paid for but there is a savings of utilities. The grader now based in the satellite garage, if moved to Barnum, could be in the Kettle River area in a short time when needed. Chairman Tom Proulx concurred and remarked, “Bring it up on an agenda item and I think the votes are there to close it.”

In a phone interview, commissioner Mark Thell questioned the idea. “We throw big money for consultants and such with little discussion, and a small savings for closing a facility which serves many of our rural areas is considered a way to save money. Our rural community needs to keep their services and the need should not be so easily dismissed. Bigger is not always better.”

Local Kettle River farmer Bob Hattenberger agreed with Thell during a phone call and said the community in his area will turn out when the county board addresses the issue.

Other county board news

• About $255,000 owed by Carlton County for county parcels being serviced by the new Twin Lakes Township waterline was approved to be paid in full with funds coming from the Federal American Rescue Plan monies. Carlton County was awarded more than $7 million through that federal program. Auditor/treasurer Kevin DeVriendt explained that this move would avoid extra costs of interest and fees over the life of the bonding for the waterline.

The water usage from the new line for the Transportation Building is estimated at 10,000 gallons per day. Presently, other water usage by county property in sections 10 and 11, such as the Transfer Station, is estimated at 50,000 gallons per day.

DeVriendt also noted that this move by the county could encourage other potential water users to show similar support..

• Zoning and environmental services administrator Heather Cunningham was given permission to hire a deputy administrator for her department. There have been some staff changes in her department and a certified advanced septic inspector has taken a position in another county department. Hiring a deputy administrator with zoning inspector credentials will help cover duties when the administrator is not available.

• Due to a resignation of the agricultural educator in the Extension office, the county board approved hiring a replacement as recommended by the University of Minnesota Extension at a 0.75 time position. Revenues from the soil improvement program have been going down.

County coordinator Genereau supported continuing the ag educator position. He related that when he had a farm in Eagle Township, he wished he had sought advice from the Extension office in the beginning. He said it cost him a lot of money to learn to run the farm well.

According to Extension, there are 529 farms in Carlton County and 197 fields have been approved for byproduct delivery through the soil improvement program.