3 days ago
printed from Hibbing Tribune.
Itasca County appears to be at a 10-year low with its Revenue Fund balance. During a work session of the Itasca County Board on March 1, commissioners were shown an analysis for its Revenue Fund, Road & Bridge Fund and Health and Human Services Fund dating back to 2006. Presented by Jenni Johnson of the Itasca County Auditor/Treasurer’s office, the information shows the county’s Revenue Fund balance at about $11 million in 2006 and accounting for about 55 percent of the county’s total revenue; for 2015, this fund was at approximately $3 million, or approximately 10 percent of total revenue. As Johnson explained, counties are recommended to maintain revenue funds at 35-50 percent of total revenue.
The analysis was part of an update on the county’s trial balance, or listing of general ledger accounts showing debit and credit, for December 2015.
In answering the big question of what is driving county revenue down, Johnson said it’s looks to be a combination of planned and unplanned reserve spending as well as spending over budget.
Itasca County Administrator Trish Harren said the Sheriff’s budget has been underfunded by about $1.5 million each year.
Johnson responded, “It’s either not budgeting enough or spending too much, whatever way you want to look at it.”
A five-year historical analysis of tax revenue illustrates property tax and penalty collections up from about $29 million to $35 million. In comparison, also part of the presentation was a five year graph of salaries, overtime, and retirement expenses. This shows an incline from about $24.5 million in 2011 to nearly $31 million in 2015. A separate chart of overtime only shows this up from $900,000 in 2011 to approximately $1.6 million in 2015.
“Overtime, over the past five years, has essentially doubled,” commented Johnson who listed employee development training as well as attorney fees as other significant reasons for increases in spending.
In addressing the overtime issue, Harren said the county has come to a point that departments are using overtime in lieu of hiring full-time additional employees.
She also said, with several retirements especially in health and human services, new employees typically take more time to become as efficient as the individuals they are replacing.
“But the key to the overtime is law enforcement and this is something Vic (Sheriff Williams) and staff are working very diligently on,” added Harren.
Another hot topic during Tuesday’s work session was management of the Itasca County Fairgrounds. Itasca County Land Commissioner Garrett Ous presented a draft proposal for a master management plan for the fairgrounds park area. As Ous explained, the county is moving toward “more assertive” management of maintenance and operations at the fairgrounds “primarily for risk management” and handling of contracts.
As stated in the draft plan recommendations, while the grounds and buildings were owned by the county in the past, the Agricultural Association was given the responsibility of operating, maintaining, repairing and replacing all of the buildings, grounds and structures with limited funds from the county. This new plan proposes a management structure that will provide a means for the county to share in the cost and management of the park. The county will provide and monitor new funding sources for the repairs and replacement of the buildings and the structure. County staff will be available to assist with contract development and supervision.
As Ous explained, the county would contract with the Agricultural Association to manage the fairgrounds and the fair event. The county and the Agricultural Association were expected to review the latest version of the management proposal this week.
“The Ag Association is looking for direction,” commented Commissioner Terry Snyder.
The draft proposal shifts arrangements from lease-based to a professional contract agreement for specific services, explained Administrator Harren.
In other business this week, the county board:
• Heard an update on a grant agreement for Firewise Chipper Days.
• Heard an update on Minnesota Power’s Great Northern Transmission Line project from Matt Hagelin, a real estate specialist with Allete. After receiving route approval last week, plans are moving ahead for the line with activities for 2016 to include contacting land owners in the area for point of entry to perform surveys of the route, according to Hagelin.
“We’re anticipating activity later this year in clearing right of ways,” added Hagelin.
• Heard preliminary news of a possible lodging tax proposal by the Lake Winnibigoshish Lake Association.