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Murray County Board approves 2020 budget and levy

SLAYTON — Murray County will pay more next year for county-wide public services, but will also benefit from increases in state and federal funding support.

Murray County commissioners approved the county’s 2020 budget and levy as part of Tuesday’s board meeting. The levy will increase 5.7 percent from 2019, a slightly higher increase than what was approved a year ago for 2019.

The net levy for 2020 stands at $7,838,245. Total taxes will be $9,074,919, up from $8,739,251 a year ago.

The total county revenue, meanwhile, will increase to $19,866,021 from a previous total of $17,813,625. The bulk of that $2 million increase comes in the form of intergovernmental aid, which includes wind energy tax revenue.

“The intergovernmental funding, including wind power, was very important for the budget,” said Murray County Administrator Tom Burke. “It’s helpful on the revenue side. That makes it easier to afford other things.”

Murray County’s cash reserve will grow by $377,793 under 2020 budget parameters. The 2019 budget projected an $888,020 increase in reserves. The difference for 2020 reflects a draw down of reserve funds to help with the cost of heating and air conditioning upgrades for two government center buildings.

Tuesday’s board actions follow last week’s county Truth in Taxation hearing. County Auditor Heidi Winter said the meeting was attended by only one Murray County resident, who was interested in comparing budget totals for 2020 to those that were approved for 2019.

“He wanted to make a comparison,” Winter said. “We went over the budget differences for the two years at the hearing, and everyone seemed satisfied with the information.”

After approving the budget and levy as presented on Tuesday, commissioners said they favor doing more to highlight annual budget comparisons.

Commissioner Lori Gunnink recommended spelling out current and prior year budget differences on the county web site, which might serve to answer questions from the public and possibly lead to public feedback as county officials explore budget options.

“Since we were asked about it, we should consider doing more to present the two-year information,” Gunnink said. “People might find what they’re looking for by going to the web site.”

In other action, the board voted unanimously to approve a conditional use permit for Josh Bonnstetter, who plans to build a 4,800-head swine barn in Lowville Township northwest of Slayton.

In addressing the board on Tuesday, Bonnstetter said his facility will be a four-rooom quad-style hog barn, about the size of a standard football field. It’s expected to be well-suited to the hog farrowing process of birthing pigs and then raising them to weaned weights.

“They can be managed in different ways, depending on how we want to fill each part of the quad,” Bonnstetter said. “Most of the time producers have been bringing in a group a week for four weeks each. It’s a good system for biosecurity because young pigs are at a point in life where they’re susceptible to swine diseases.”

Murray County Planning and Zoning Coordinator Jean Christoffels said the county planning commission approved Bonnstetter’s permit with no requirement for the planting of trees.

She said trees weren’t considered necessary for the overall configuration of the swine barn area. Both an access road and a stormwater pond will stand between the barn and nearby properties.

The winter of 2019-20, which featured heavy snow cover, led to more than a half dozen issues involving tree plantings and livestock barns in Murray County. In one situation, centered around a facility in neighboring Mason Township, planted trees had to be removed a decade later after roots damaged a previously unidentified tile line.

“Trees shouldn’t be a requirement for a new barn unless they’re definitely needed,” said Commissioner Jim Kluis. “After what farmers went through last winter, I’d just as soon not have them.”

The board also moved a step closer this week to investing in a 911 system software upgrade for the county law enforcement dispatch network.

Chief Deputy Sheriff Heath Landsman outlined a plan under which the county can use $10,000 in 911 enhancement funds for support services on a software package installed in 2014. To facilitate the software support, the county would need to invest $102,075 over a five-year period for an upgrade to its somputer system.

“It’s looks like the best way to go,” Landsman said. “The supplier will continue to support the software until new equipment is installed. It’s better than getting a totally new system every five years.”

Landsman said law enforcement departments are currently advised to plan on major upgrades after five years to maintain reliable emergency dispatch service.

He added that efforts by counties, cities, and agencies to work together with shared computer networks have only a limited cost-saving potential.

Technology suppliers are usually open to letting them share resources, as long as each government unit pays the same as what it would be charged as an individual customer.

The board asked Landsman to seek several clarifications about Murray County’s obligation under a five-year contract to upgrade. Action on a contract is expected at an upcoming board meeting.

“It would be helpful if we can get to the point of being able to do what we did with our HVAC (heating and air conditioning),” said Commissioner Dave Thiner. “It’s better to set aside money knowing when we’ll have make improvements. That’s difficult to do when the market is unpredictable.”

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