McCOOK, Nebraska -- Red Willow County Commissioners hope taxes paid between now and Sept. 1, and the cooperation of county officials figuring pay raises will help them write a budget that doesn't break the bank.
So far, tentatively, commissioners would need $3,329,414 in taxes to fund department budgets proposed by county officials for 2010-11. That figure does not yet include the county fair and health department budgets, two of the "big five" funds that have their own tax levies. The five are general (which includes county offices such as the assessor, treasurer and clerk), road and bridge, self-insurance, health department and fair.
Last year, the county asked for a total of $2,422,049 in taxes for the big five funds, and the county's tax levy was 36 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Using the $3.3 million figure, county budget clerk Shirley Volz estimated a county levy of $0.508289 for 2010-11. The final valuation for 2010-11, which will be available Aug. 20, will help determine the exact levy.
Commission Chairman Earl McNutt said Monday morning, "I had a bad feeling the levy could go up a couple cents. But we can't go up that much in one year."
Right now, $4 million in taxes (for all taxing entities, not just the county) will become delinquent Sept. 1. "We've never had $4 million out before," Volz said.
The proposed budget is based on 100 percent tax collection, Volz said. "And tax collections aren't as good as they've been in the past. With better tax collections, we would have better starting balances."
Volz told commissioners that the county doesn't have the cash reserves it once maintained. "We've had more than $100,000 per fund in cash reserves, and we've been cutting that back each year," she said. That may be the downside of getting too conservative in budgets from year-to-year, McNutt said, and from trying to hold the line too tightly on tax-asking and levy increases.
"These are tough economic times," McNutt said.
Through a resolution, commissioners authorized pay raises of $50 per month for employees who work 40 hours a week, and $43.75 per month for employees who work 35 hours a week.
Salaries of elected officials are set before election time every four years, and the filing fee that a candidate must pay is based upon that salary. County officials' raises for 2010-11 account for about $7,000 in the proposed budget. Employees' raises amount to approximately $130,000.
Looking through proposed budgets, McNutt said several officials did not follow the pay raise guideline. "We'll have to reinforce our motion on the pay increases," McNutt said. Budgets that do not follow the guidelines will not be approved, he said. "I expect everyone to follow it," There will be no exceptions, commissioners agreed.
McNutt -- perturbed that some officials chose to give bigger raises than authorized -- said an alternative may be to amend the motion to give no pay increases at all.
Hoyt said other options may be to develop a system of unpaid furloughs and/or reduce the number of county employees.
Commissioners are also investigating making changes in the county's health insurance benefit, for which county employees pay nothing. The proposed budget for the county's self-insurance fund anticipates an increase, from $942,092.91 (actual expense in 2009-10) to $1,075,610 (which includes the repayment of a $53,610 loan from inheritance in 2009-10).
The budget proposal indicates that the county paid $225,378.55 in health insurance premiums for 2009-10, and estimates that expense at $256,000 for 2010-11. Claims totaled $716,714.36 in 2009-10; claims are estimated at $766,000 for 2010-11.
In other action:
* Weed superintendent Bill Elliott told commissioners it's too late to spray musk thistle, but Canada thistle can and should be sprayed now.
Cris Burks of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has identified infestations of noxious thistles throughout the county, and delivered a second set of reports to Elliott and commissioners. Burks wrote seven infestation reports in July, and an additional 18 reports Monday. These aren't all "the usual suspects" who need reminders to spray and control their noxious weeds every year, Elliott said. There are also new growths, he said.
Elliott said many of the infestations appear to be on CRP -- Conservation Reserve Program -- land, and he suspects that maybe even CRP seed may be infested.
Several of Burks' reports indicate that a landowner has sprayed and is getting some control of weeds. Most, however, read, "No obvious sign of control."
Commissioners authorized Elliott to contact landowners and determine a course of action with each. Elliott is to report back to commissioners at their Aug. 23 meeting.
If landowners do not spray, the county will spray and add the cost of spraying to the landowner's tax bill.
* With the help of the county's responsible charge person (RC person) for federal aid transportation projects, commissioners narrowed a list of 12 possible construction engineering firms to work on the McCook West project to four: 1. Olsson's; 2. Kirkham Michael; 3. W Design; and 4. JEO.
The final selection will be made by the Nebraska Department of Transportation