FAIRMONT - Martin County commissioners continued chipping away at budget items Tuesday in an attempt to lower the proposed property tax levy hike for next year.
Previous work had the increase sitting at 13.6 percent, but a line by line audit allowed the board to find areas to reduce. In addition, the board is considering using reserve dollars to soften the blow to taxpayers.
Proposed reductions of $283,849 were identified. Combined with $250,000 from the reserve fund, the tax increase would be $933,197, or 8.64 percent.
Scott Higgins, county coordinator, said the proposed reductions will be submitted to individual departments, which will have a chance to defend their original proposals.
The final tax levy numbers do not need to be submitted to the state until Sept. 15, after which the amount can be lowered but not raised.
"It is still too high," said Commissioner Dan Schmidtke, "but I don't know where to go from here."
Last year, the county raised its levy only 1.9 percent, but used $500,000 in savings to keep the increase down.
According to Commissioner Steve Pierce, the county's reserve fund has been called the second largest in Minnesota, although it is divided into specific areas the county is saving for, such as ARMER radios.
In other business, commissioners:
o Approved signing a letter of support for a pilot project meant to connect young parents with more experienced parents in a mentoring relationship.
The letter is needed for the grant process through Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.
Val Jepsen, Martin County Mentoring Network coordinator, said the parenting initiative will be a way for her organization to offer more complete assistance to families. Currently, programs are targeted at elementary and older students; this would bring programming to early childhood.
The Mentoring Parents program will work with other organizations within the county, such as Early Childhood Family Education, Head Start, church programs and schools.
"If a young parent has a buddy to go into new situations with, they may be more willing to try it," she said.
The grant will allow the coordinator position to move from a part-time to full-time job. Martin County Mentoring Network also requested in-kind support from the county in the form of office space and $3,000 cash.
o Set a public hearing regarding an increase in recycling assessments for 10 a.m. Sept. 18. The hearing will consider an increase from $36 per year for Fairmont residents to $41 per year, and an increase in rural assessments from $24 to $25 per year.