The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a preliminary levy increase of 0.75% during their Tuesday meeting. The decision came after County Finance Manager Michelle May presented the Board with four scenarios utilizing varying ratios of reserve funds and levy revenue to cover the anticipated budget gap.

The scenario with the largest levy increase called for a 2.28% increase over last year, with $163,749 added to reserve funds. On the opposite end, scenario 4 called for a levy decrease of 0.67%, which would be covered by withdrawing $141,051 from reserves. All four proposals maintained buffer aid surplus accrued during the previous year (and projected for 2018).

The board went back and forth over whether to increase the levy and maintain current reserves, or keep the levy low by using reserve funds to cover anticipated health and human services costs. May explained to the board that this expected spending was not guaranteed, meaning that levy increases might enable the county to put more money in reserves. Commissioner Ron Antony stressed his opposition to increasing the levy for the purposes of covering anticipated, rather than guaranteed, costs, adding that he would rather take money out of reserves than over levy county residents.

May informed the board that increases in county spending largely comes from rising payroll and health insurance costs among county employees. Commissioner John Berends suggested that the board re-evaluate previous commitments to increase workforce efficiency, stressing that the county stood to save a lot of money. Berends lauded new efficiency measures already in place, saying that “the situation would be much worse without those changes.”

He also emphasized that his comments were in no way a criticism of county employees, adding that “there are still more opportunities to increase efficiency.”

Eventually, the board came to an agreement that it was better to levy only for planned expenses instead of using levy revenue to bolster reserves. The 0.75% is slightly higher than what May proposed during her presentation due to the addition of a new part-time IT position not yet reflected in the draft budget. Once adopted, the board cannot increase the levy, however, they may choose to lower it before the December budget deadline. May promised to bring the board updated human services numbers before then to help the board make a final determination.

In other news:

County Administrator Peg Heglund informed the board that Farmers Mutual was not awarded a grant to implement broadband coverage in the central part of the county. She explained that they had failed to survey current internet providers in the area, which was a stipulation for the grant. The board is still exploring alternative options to expand broadband coverage, and Heglund said that several providers had already expressed interest.

The board approved a new buffer ordinance intended to increase compliance among farmers. Full enforcement of the ordinance will not happen until the end of 2018, by which the county expects about 90% of all properties to be in compliance. The ordinance is in line with changes to state regulations implemented by governor Mark Dayton which are designed to improve water quality by preventing the runoff of toxic chemicals into Minnesota’s waterways.

The board listened to Ashlie Johnson, Countryside Public Health, as she discussed proposed changes to the county’s 2015 Tobacco Ordinance. The ordinance, which regulates the sale and distribution of tobacco products, outlines guidelines for how vendors are supposed to check IDs. Johnson recommended that the board consider adopting tobacco education training to deal with the large number of illegal tobacco sales to minors in the county.

The training comprises a series of videos and quizzes covering general information about tobacco, compliance checks and penalties, and how to avoid illegal sales. The board discussed whether this training would be mandatory for licensing, or if it was better to use it as a tool to help non-compliant businesses. They also discussed how to best train employees. The board agreed to consider Johnson’s recommendations and make a decision once they had more information.