Houston County commissioners adopted the 2014 proposed property tax levy and operating budget on Sept. 10.

At $10,855,549 (after subtracting $873,567 for county program aid), the levy represents the maximum amount the county is allowed to tax under Minnesota law. One year ago, the proposed levy was set at $10,770,209, but the certified levy was cut to $10,473,779 when finalized in December.

The 2014 operating budget came in at $29,663,021, and is $178,744 over projected revenues. Two commissioners (Justin Zmyewski and Judy Storlie) were not present for the votes.

Both the budget and levy can be adjusted before the end of the year, but in general, the levy cannot be increased over the proposed amount.

Finance director Carol Lapham later confirmed that the levy represents the maximum allowable increase. "The law referenced a maximum 3 percent increase for the levy limit base, or the 2011 levy, or the 2012 levy, whichever is greater," she reported via email. "Special levies can then be added back in. For Houston County, that includes bond levy and economic development abatements." The total increase amounts to 3.52 percent, Lapham calculated.

"We could make our budget 0 percent (higher), but it wouldn't be realistic," Lapham told the board. That's because mandated spending would continue to occur, and would use up fund balance. The State Auditor's Office recommends that counties maintain six months' worth of spending in their fund balance, she added.

Commissioner Steve Schuldt made the motion to approve a 3.52 percent increase, which passed by unanimous vote. "It's getting to the point now where we're going to (have to) contemplate cutting services," he stated.

With only three commissioners voting, another subject had to be tabled. Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan reported that a four-fifths vote is needed to amend the county's zoning ordinance.

On Aug. 29, the Planning Commission held a public hearing on an application from the Frydenlund Family Trust of Black Hammer Township, Scanlan said. The trust is applying for an amendment to county ordinances to allow the issuance of interim use permits (IUPs) that could bring their set of cabins into compliance with county zoning standards.

Currently, there is no language in the Houston County land use ordinance that allows the issuance of an IUP. Scanlan reported that the application from the trust would add a new section (number 7) to the books, and add language to section 13 as it relates to agricultural protection districts. The application copies IUP language from Sherburne County, he stated.

An IUP typically "sunsets" or expires, either at a predetermined date or when a specific action occurs, such as the sale of a property, Scanlan reported. The application would only add IUP permits for one purpose - to allow "non-commercial family cabins" within the county, he added.

Commissioners agreed by consensus to have Scanlan "clean up" the language of the application, as it would relate to Houston County, and include a series of "findings" that each permit would have to meet. Those would closely mirror CUP requirements. The issue will likely be on next week's agenda.

On a related note, commissioners voted to approve a preliminary plat for Nick Thesing of Money Creek Township, which the Planning Commission also forwarded. Thesing is applying to build a one-lot (one home) subdivision. Finally, 18 already-issued building permits were approved.

Other News:

The board voted to hire 67-day employee Michael Meredith as a part-time (0.5 FTE) jailer/dispatcher, as well as hire Alicia Arenz as a 67-day employee to work "as needed" in the same position.

Commissioners formally approved the $10,000 Historical Society (Legacy) grant, which will pay for a historic structure report on the courthouse.

Personnel/Facilities director Tess Kruger reported that the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services has issued a "maintenance of status quo order" on behalf of Houston County engineering assistants, who are seeking collective bargaining representation. Kruger said that two or three employees might be affected, and that another unit of the "49ers" might eventually be established.

"It's within their right to organize," she stated.

Earlier in the meeting, the board approved the final payment on a $1,146,425 road reconstruction project along CSAH 26. That work was paid for with legislative bonding monies, not local funds, county engineer Brian Pogodzinski said.

Another vote approved B & D Sealcoating as the low bidder to repaint crosswalks within the City of Caledonia. Commissioners were told that the city would pick up part of the tab, even though the bid process was left to the county. The cost was $9,550.

Pogodzinski also won approval for low-bidder Minnowa Construction to begin $64,750 worth of bridge repairs. "This is not flood-related," he said. Houston County budgeted $100,000 for bridge repairs in 2013, so the remaining funds might go towards pavement patching, Pogodzinski added.

Lastly, commissioners voted to require proof of liability insurance for temporary liquor licenses after auditor Char Meiners reported that the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust does not cover the county when such permits are granted.