The Cass County Board set the 2014 preliminary levy Tuesday, Sept. 3, at the same dollar amount as in the last five years, $20,046,613.
That levy includes $19,585,613 for county operations and $461,000 that is levied only against properties in the Longville Ambulance Service district to operate that service.
Because the county’s land value has continued to decrease since the recession, this will mean levying the same dollars still will increase the county portion of the levy rate by 2.5 percent, from 30.268 to 20.948 percent.
The board questioned how long into the future the county can continue to hold its dollar levy as costs rise. Before the recession, new development and rising property values offset increases the county made to keep pace with rising costs.
The current two-year union contracts calls for 2.5 percent raises each year. The county’s health insurance program also will see increased costs in 2014.
While the rate of land value decrease has moderated, it still has not turned the corner toward an increase, Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe said. New construction in Cass has yet to rebound significantly, he added.
Cass commissioners Tuesday also set a preliminary 2014 budget, which would be 1.4 percent higher than 2013, increasing from $49,416,101 to $50,112,612, which is a rise of $696,511. Of that increase, $360,000 is in the county’s self-insurance fund, Wolfe said.
This budget allows for only a $388,467 contingency fund to handle emergencies, compared with a 2013 $727,992 contingency. The board would like to see a higher contingency fund.
The citizen budget committee now will meet in September and October with department heads to look for ways each department might lower their requests, so the contingency fund can be increased. The board expects to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 to present a revised budget to the public and receive comment on it. Final board action on the final 2014 levy and budget is expected at the 9 a.m. Dec. 17 regular board meeting.
The board also set a preliminary levy Tuesday, Sept. 3, for unorganized townships in the northern part of the county, which is proposed to remain at $245,000.