County approves levy increase for 2014

MARSHALL – Frustrations over the county budgeting process came to the fore for some Lyon County commissioners on Tuesday. Members of the Lyon County Board were divided over whether to approve the first levy increase in six years, voting 3-2 in favor of approving a levy of about $12.67 million for 2014. The final levy was a reduction of about $54,000 from the preliminary levy and was only approved after a 3-2 failed vote to keep the levy at the same level as 2013.

Commissioner Charlie Sanow expressed disapproval over how little had changed since the preliminary levy was adopted in September.

“We haven’t done anything since we passed the max levy,” Sanow said. “We said we’d trim it down.”

The decision on the 2014 levy came at the very end of an extended meeting, after discussion of several items of business with potential effects on the county budget. Those items included the question of whether to include three additional full-time staff positions for the county highway department. County Highway Engineer Aaron VanMoer had been asked to give his recommendations on the matter.

However, VanMoer said he needed more time to really learn how the department is running now before he would be comfortable giving the board a full staffing plan. He asked that the three positions be left in the 2014 budget. If it was decided not to hire additional staff, there were other road and bridge costs that the funding could possibly be used for, he said.

Commissioners Sanow and Steve Ritter said they weren’t convinced that three full-time workers were really a necessary cost for the highway department. But a motion to leave the item in the budget passed 3-2.

Sanow brought forward a few proposals to reduce the 2014 budget. One was a total reduction of $30,000 from the Veterans Service Office budget. Sanow proposed $25,000 be removed from the VSO salary budget and $5,000 from the office’s part-time salary budget. Lyon County VSO Terry Wing is expected to be on active military service for about a year, and the county only pays a limited amount of salary for employee military leave, Sanow said. The motion passed.

Sanow also proposed that the county cut $24,000 of the $48,000 it had originally budgeted to help bring RSVP, a regional volunteer organization helping senior citizens, to Lyon County. That motion also passed.

A third proposal by Sanow, to cut funding for the Sentenced to Service program in Lyon County, failed 3-2.

Sanow said he was frustrated that very little budget discussion, let alone trimming, had happened since the 2014 preliminary levy was set. By comparison, Sanow said, when he was a Marshall City Council member, the budget process started in July.

Ritter also asked if it was possible for the county to use reserve funds to help lower the levy. The county currently has a six-month operating reserve, he said.

“For me, it would make more sense to see reserves go into buying down building bonds,” said board chairman Rick Anderson. The county court facilities are in need of a future remodel, Anderson said.

Sanow and Ritter voted in favor of setting the 2014 levy at about $12.1 million, the same levy the county has kept since 2008. The motion failed 3-2.

A $12.676 million levy passed 3-2, along the same voting lines. The levy commissioners approved represented the preliminary levy with the $54,000 in cuts that commissioners had approved.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners split on whether to increase commissioner salaries and per diem rates. The annual salaries have stayed at $17,500, with an additional $200 per month for the board chairman, since 2009. A motion to leave commissioner salaries at $17,500 failed 3-2, with Anderson, Mark Goodenow and Rodney Stensrud voting against. A motion to raise salaries to $18,150 per year passed 3-2, along the same voting lines.

The board also went into a brief closed session to discuss setting county elected officials’ salaries for 2014. When they reconvened in open session, commissioners approved salary increases for the Lyon County Board and board chairman, recorder, auditor/treasurer, attorney and sheriff.

The county recorder’s salary was increased to $65,000 from about $61,000. The auditor/treasurer salary was increased to $85,700 from $82,000. The county attorney’s salary was increased to $107,346, up from about $104,000. The sheriff’s salary was increase to $94,900 from about $90,000.