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Olmsted County expects first-ever drop in budget

Diminished state funding still will be felt

By Lanier Frush Holt

lholt@postbulletin.com

Olmsted County's budget is expected to decrease for the first time in history next year.

Members of Olmsted County Board discussed their 2004 tax levy during Tuesday's board meeting. The board will set its final budget on Dec. 16.

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Despite rising property values and a local levy increase, the county will not entirely make up the $6.8 million it will lose in state funding. The county had a total budget of $137 million for 2003. The budget for 2004 is expected to be $135.3 million.

Simply put, the state put the county in a bigger hole than the county could levy itself out of, said Bob Bendzick, the county's chief financial officer.

The county plans to increase its local levy by nearly 8 percent, but the added cost to taxpayers will be absorbed by a 10 percent increase in overall market value. That means taxpayers could see a 1.98 percent decrease in property taxes, unless their property has been reassessed.

Even with an increased levy and added fees there will not be enough to offset the loss of state money.

Some Olmsted County workers and those needing county services will be affected the most.

The county has announced plans to trim its payroll by 100 employees in 2004 for a $5 million savings. Eighty positions are already open, meaning another 20 employees will be laid off.

More than 40 programs have been eliminated or reduced, including some targeting teen pregnancy, youth tobacco use and domestic abuse. Purchases will also be decreased by $1 million.

Fees -- generating $1.2 million -- for some county services will be increased to preserve funding for vulnerable populations where no other funding sources are available, according to Richard Devlin, Olmsted County administrator.

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"Some of the anticipated changes include charging day cares a licensing fee, increasing fees for property recording, park usage, dust control, and sample-testing services," he added.

The county has also cut $700,000 in miscellaneous expenses, which include office supplies, travel expenses and development.

Most of the county's expenses are mandated by federal, state and court laws and rules.

"Basic services our residents have come to expect will need to be reduced and-or eliminated," Devlin said. "Changes include reduced supervision of offenders in the jail, fewer investigations of low-level crimes, abridged school nursing, truancy services and less snow plowing."

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