A brief Sept. 3 regular board meeting of the Fillmore County commissioners saw an update on the levy and proposed 2014 budget given by county coordinator Karen Brown. The county's levy increase was at 2.11 percent with a $178,370 increase.

The state had set the levy limits the week before and the county was notified their limit was the same as last year, or allowing for a zero percent increase. Brown explained departments had looked at their budgets with most reporting they didn't know where else they could cut costs or increase revenue.

County auditor/treasurer Shirl Boelter stated, "All department heads are being thrifty and cutting corners."

The board will need to certify their budget at the next board meeting.

The county has few options in regards to cutting down the proposed levy to within the levy limit. Commissioner Duane Bakke mentioned the county could leave the levy where it is at if there are more state exemptions.

Brown said the exemptions were most likely already figured into the current levy, but that she would check again.

Commissioners Marc Prestby, Randy Dahl and Chuck Amunrud each verbally expressed their wanting the levy to stay at a zero percent increase.

Dahl pointed out the county was behind on equipment purchases and jail improvements needed to be addressed soon. However, he expressed, "I don't want to tax taxpayers one cent more than is necessary."

The county can use general revenue dollars to move the levy to a zero percent increase. Highway engineer Ron Gregg updated the board on department cuts he had made that would reduce the levy by $98,039. This would leave approximately $80,000 more to be cut out in order for the zero percent goal to be attained.

If needed during 2014, this could be taken care of with fund balance dollars.

"We've already made a commitment to zero percent. If we have to use fund balance to get it there, then we do," stated Amunrud.

Use of the sanitation fund balance was considered as a possible way to reduce impact on reserves. The commissioners asked departments to continue evaluating what they could cut in expenditures or increase in revenue.

Commissioner salaries discussed

Bakke asked if the county would do anything relating to an increase of commissioners' per diems. Current per diem for Fillmore County commissioners is $40. A recommended $5 increase would add $3,312 to the budget for 2014, which is currently at $25,260. The 2013 budgeted amount was $26,560 and 2012 per diem expenditures was $26,280.

Commissioners receive per diem for board meetings not held on the second Tuesday of the month and any county or other meetings to which they must travel.

This item will be considered next week in conjunction with the current standing of the preliminary budget. The proposed salaries for commissioners would stay at $20,000.

Maintenance requests

Gregg received approval from the board to purchase a ditching bucket for an excavator at just under $7,000. He said the bucket would enable the county to salvage gravel from roads that had washed during the June flash flood event.

An advertisement of a Norway Township bridge replacement along Colt Road was approved.

Gregg mentioned this was not related to any FEMA-funded work.

Bakke inquired after the county's work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and if the money would cover complete projects or only partial completion.

Gregg reported a good working relationship with FEMA. It had been made clear FEMA would not fund improvements, only projects that would return a structure to its original state.

Personnel matters

As recommended by Human Resources officer Kristina Kohn, the board approved the hire of registered nurse Michelle Gatzke to a Public Health position in Community Services.

Commissioner Thomas Kaase said he would like to see commissioners have access to background information on potential employees in the future. He pointed to Olmsted County and the city of Rochester as two entities that use a civil service committee to analyze background checks.

Bakke asked who would be on a similar committee in Fillmore County.

Kaase responded saying there would be no new committee, but commissioners would review information before hiring someone.

Amunrud said he thought commissioners already had a right to that information, although they usually don't review it.

Kaase recommended the board consider doing something down the road and commissioners becoming involved in reviewing backgrounds.

Public input

Mary Dunphy from Rushford expressed concern that there was no guardrail along Highway 25 heading down from the Peterson Fish Hatchery. She called the road during winter "dangerous" and reported seeing two to three cars at the bottom of the hill off the road.

Bakke explained that since it was a cost-share road with the state, there were certain guidelines that needed to be met.

Dahl told Dunphy the highway committee would receive the complaint and the engineer would take a look at it. Dahl also expressed his agreement that it seemed like a good candidate for guardrail installation.

Other news

In other business, the board of commissioners discussed the following issues during its meeting.

• Upon recommendation by zoning administrator Chris Graves, the board approved the application of Donald and Penelope Redalen for a new field access permit on County Road 21 in Carrolton Township. Graves said the new access would stay away from fiber optic and gas lines near the property.

• The board accepted the resignation of intermittent jailer Carl Eberle.

• Additional work surface and efficiency equipment for the Highway Administrative office was purchased at a total of $1,057.

• The 2012 audited financial statement was approved for publication.

• The purchase of a replacement copier for the auditor/treasurer's office was approved.

• Community service guidelines for Merit System Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action were approved based on prior review and confirmation that the documents contained nothing in conflict with what the county currently had.