Lyon County faces challenges in 2014 budget process

MARSHALL – The 2014 budget process is under way for Lyon County. County commissioners took a look at a draft proposal for next year’s budget and levy during a special meeting Tuesday. With updated county pay scales in place and several capital improvement projects on the horizon, the county will face some challenges keeping its levy at the same amount it has for the past six years, said Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg.

Commissioners will continue to discuss the proposal over the next few weeks. The county needs to approve a preliminary levy by Sept. 15. That preliminary levy can be lowered but not raised.

Stomberg presented commissioners with a “rough draft” proposal for the 2014 county budget and levy.

“This is all very preliminary,” Stomberg told commissioners. Some figures in the proposal would serve as placeholders until commissioners could discuss them in more depth, he said.

The draft proposal included a total levy of about a $14.1 million. If approved, that would be nearly a 16 percent increase from 2013, Stomberg said. At an earlier meeting of the county board, Stomberg had warned commissioners that it might not be possible for the county to continue its six-year streak of keeping the levy at about $12.1 million.

Among individual department budgets, the proposal included increases to account for salary increases and updated county pay scales. One of the sharpest proposed increases was in the county assessor’s budget. Stomberg said the proposed assessor budget would go from $194,200 to $277,945. The increase included $50,000 to help cover the cost of possibly merging assessing duties with the city of Marshall in the future, he said.

In addition, Stomberg said, the county will be facing several large capital improvement projects in the coming year. Commissioners will need to decide which projects to include in the budget and how. The list included projects like the development of Twin Lakes Park, possible roofing and HVAC work at the Lyon County Historical Museum and a hoop barn structure to be built at the county fairgrounds. The hoop barn project will receive grant funding, but there will need to be a local match. Stomberg said that funding was not included in the present budget.

One option to fund capital projects next year would be bonding. But County Board Chairman Rick Anderson said one of the questions there was which, if any, projects to bond for.

Commissioner Steve Ritter said he thought the county should also consider closing out inactive accounts to help with funding and budgeting projects.

“It would be nice to know the net dollars we have on reserve,” Ritter said, as well as what funds could and could not be spent.

Interim County Auditor/Treasurer E.J. Moberg said the county had about eight months’ worth of reserves in 2012. Lowering the reserve funds by about a month’s worth could free up about $1.1 million in funds, he said.

Stomberg said the biggest question for him, was whether the board wanted county staff to work a 40-hour week. Some county employees currently work 37.5 hours per week, and commissioners had discussed whether the public would be better served if county offices were open longer. Stomberg said going to a 40-hour week would mean an additional cost of about $82,000 in 2014.

“Is having the courthouse open two-and-a-half hours worth $82,000?” asked commissioner Charlie Sanow.

Commissioners didn’t come to a consensus Tuesday but directed Stomberg to look into the cost of having the auditor/treasurer, assessor and recorder offices open longer.

Commissioners said there were also other issues they would need to consider for the budget. For example, the board has not yet decided how to proceed in replacing former public works director Suhail Kanwar. Options in that situation may include hiring a county public works director, or going back to having a county engineer.

Commissioners didn’t have a lot of consensus on many of the items brought up Tuesday. Commissioner Mark Goodenow suggested trying to get the proposed levy down to the county’s levy limit and then working from there.

Commissioners will continue to discuss the budget proposal at upcoming meetings.