After several weeks of debate, the Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners voted to set the preliminary levy for 2019. The preliminary levy, set at 4.15%, is slightly lower than the 4.35% recommended in the draft budget presented by the Finance Manager Lacey Rigge. Commissioners have the ability to lower the general levy before the final budget is approved in December, but they cannot increase it.

 Rigge and County Administrator Peg Heglund helped answers questions from commissioners during their regular meeting on Tuesday, September 25. Overall, the County is estimating expenses for 2019 at $12,782,095. Heglund commented that most of the spending increase for 2019 is going towards repair work for roads and bridges.

 Both the commissioners and budget officials stressed that there were still areas were the county could cut spending. “I believe that there are things we can still do to reduce this,” said Board Chair Ron Antony, adding that the Board would “vet this out through December.” Heglund agreed, noting that although Department heads had made several last minute budget requests, “everything is now in the budget.”

 Heglund also gave Commissioners a brief crash course in the County’s fiscal history. She reviewed past levy increases going back to 1994 (when the Board voted to increase the levy by 12%). This historical record includes a broad range of levy adjustments. In 2005, for example, the County didn’t even vote to change the levy at all. “There really hasn’t been a smooth amount,” Heglund concluded.

 There was some discussion over how to adjust the draft levy. Chair Antony made it clear that he supported pushing down the levy to 3.15%, though other commissioners expressed their desire for a figure slightly higher. “If we go with 4%, we have the ability to walk it back,” remarked Commissioner John Berends, arguing that “if we vote for 3%, it forces our hand.”

 Heglund assured commissioners that the budget was already well trimmed, commenting that the budget team was “lean and mean.” The commissioners agreed, prompting Antony to say that “we’re a good deal past the days of padding budgets.” Eventually, Commissioner Greg Renneke introduced a motion setting the preliminary levy at 4.15%. Commissioners Berend, Kack, and Renneke voted in favor of the resolution, while Antony voted against. Commissioner Gary Johnson was absent for the meeting and thus did not cast a vote.

In other news:

The Board of Commissioners also accepted the resignations of Social Worker Amanda Johnson and Correctional Officer/Dispatcher Jeanette Duis. They also approved requests by each department to hire replacements.

The Board also unanimously approved the renewal of a Mutual Aid Agreement with the Region Five Homeland Security and Emergency Management Association (RFHSEMA). The contract makes available various Homeland Security equipment and personnel in the case of emergencies among the 18 county governments and two tribal governments who are signatories to the agreement. The agreement also lays out a ‘request for assistance’ procedure for the signatories to follow, in addition to language pertaining to liability.

 Family Service Director Rae Ann Keeler-Aus as also present to give the Board her regular departmental update. She informed the Board that so far in the month of September, there were 15 youth in out of home placement, 13 of whom were in child protection. Two children are awaiting a judge’s orders to transfer custody and three children’s cases are pending adoption. So far, caseload averages this summer (roughly 15-20 cases in any given month) are on track to mirror numbers from 2016 after a dramatic spike in 2017 when there was an average of 27.6 between May and September.