RED WING — The cutting crew brought their suggestions Tuesday to the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners budget and levy talks. 

Commissioner Jason Majerus started the discussion by asking to cut the $100,000 the county plans to invest in its new drug court program. Majerus further asked that any vote to add money to the drug court be separate votes in the future. 

Majerus' proposal was immediately met with opposition. 

"Drug addiction in this country is of epidemic proportions," said Commissioner Paul Drotos. "The only united front we have (in Goodhue County) is this drug court."

Drotos said if the county was so concerned about getting money to take care of the drug epidemic, it should have joined the lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. Drotos said that in the name of budget concessions he'd be willing to support a cut of $50,000, but not the whole $100,000.

The county is expecting grant money to help get its drug court going, but an initial line item recommended spending $100,000. Commissioner Brad Anderson said the grant money is designed to start the program with county funding keeping the drug court going if it is successful and shows positive results in keeping drug offenders out jail and reducing other county expenses -- foster care placement, health care, jail time and more -- while helping recovering users remain as taxpayers rather than sources of spending. 

"I have no inclination it won't work," Anderson said. "I think it's very short-sighted to take that $50,000 out when we could build this program."

A call to cut $50,000 in drug court spending failed on a 2-2 vote. 

Commissioner Barney Nesseth then questioned a pair of department heads -- Public Works Director Greg Isakson and Land Use Director Lisa Hanni -- about increases in their budgets and decreases in revenue in their departments.

"What are we going to do to address these shortfalls in revenue," Nesseth said, referring to an estimated $41,000 reduction in revenue due to low prices on recyclables. "Maybe we should have another plan."

Anderson said he agreed, but the prices of recycled aluminum, tin and newspaper are not something the county can control, he said, and the county must recycle these items if it will be part of the closed landfill system it plans to join. 

While a motion was made to pass the staff-proposed levy of $37,026,033, Nesseth asked to amend the motion to cut $150,000 in the budget should South Country Health Alliance -- the county's heath care provider for Medical Assistance, Minnesota Care and other county health care programs -- need a cash infusion. 

Earlier in 2019, Anderson said, South Country Health Alliance was facing a shortfall due to high drug prices and high use among residents in its participating counties. Not wanting to get caught without funds available, Goodhue County included $200,000 in its 2020 budget. However, South Country Health Alliance has recovered and -- provided negotiations for 2020 go as planned -- the $200,000 won't be needed. 

"The preliminary levy always seems to be the final levy," Nesseth said. "I'd like to take part of that South Country money out now."

Anderson said he would support removing the entire $200,000 from the levy once the county knew where it stood after negotiations and open enrollment for its employee health plan, but added, "If it comes from South Country, I'll second that. If you're using the money all over, I can't."

In the end, by a 3-1 vote with Majerus voting no, the levy was set at an amount $150,000 below the staff recommendation. Overall the preliminary levy was set at $36,876,033, a 2.54 percent increase over the 2019 levy. 

The final levy will be set in December. It can remain the same as the preliminary levy or go lower, according to state statute, but cannot go up. 

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