COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONSFiscal Year 2023 Preliminary Budget and Levy
By: James Joerke, Cook County Administrator
COOK COUNTRY, MINNESOTA October 2, 2022 (LSNews) On Tuesday, September 13, 2022, the Cook County Board of Commissioners set the Fiscal Year 2023 preliminary levy at 5.5 percent. The preliminary levy establishes a budget ceiling for the fiscal year that begins January 1, 2023 and ends December 31, 2023. The County Board is scheduled to set the final budget and levy for 2023 at its December 13, 2022, meeting, and a Truth in Taxation hearing to receive public feedback on the budget will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, in the Commissioners’ Room of the Cook County Courthouse. The final levy can be lower, but not higher, than the 5.5 percent level set on September 13. as follows:
There are a number of factors that led to increases in the budget for 2023. Personnel costs account for the largest share of the County levy, which is proposed to be a little over $11.43 million next year. Like public- and private-sector organizations across the country, the County has had to negotiate higher wages to remain competitive in attracting and retaining employees. Labor contracts that were negotiated earlier this year include a 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment for County staff. Additionally, the County has been conducting a compensation study to ensure that pay rates reflect what is happening in the labor market. More information about the study will be available in the coming weeks. Finally, after an unexpected decrease in the cost of health insurance for 2022, premiums for next year will be going up 7.5 percent. Other new expenses of note include the purchase of new radios to replace failing equipment in the Sheriff’s Office ($120,000), a proposed wage subsidy for day care providers, including a childcare coordinator position ($360,000), and a professional services contract ($20,000) related to the implementation of the County’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that is currently being updated.
The County is also proposing to increase staffing in key areas to address service deficits and maintain levels of service as the county’s population continues to grow. One of these is a full-time position in the Management Information Services Department that will provide network management, end user support and training. A half-time position was already in the budget, so the impact on the levy is just the addition of a 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE). The Land Services Department has proposed to fill a half-time Parks & Trails Services Director position that has been vacant since 2019 and to add a half-time position to accommodate increased workloads in planning and zoning. On August 16, 2022, The Cook County Public Health and Human Services Board approved the use of $360,000 in fund balance in part to create the childcare coordinator position that would serve as a resource to county day care providers, providing regulatory compliance assistance, connecting them to training resources, and providing technical support to those with an interest in starting a home day care business.
The County continues to coordinate with Lake and St. Louis Counties to resolve issues related to the U.S. Forest Service’s reappraisal of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Under the Thye-Blatnik Act of 1948, the County receives payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT, as compensation for the County’s inability to collect property taxes on federal lands. An appraisal conducted in 2018 significantly undervalued the BWCAW from the three counties’ perspectives – it would have lowered the County’s PILT from over $2.0 million to around $1.3 million – and a second appraisal conducted last year also failed to address the counties’ concerns about how the value should be calculated. The counties have until November 11, 2022, to contest the most recent appraisal, and a final determination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected in the first part of 2023.
Balances in each of the County’s three main funds – the general fund, Highway, and Public Health & Human Services – have grown in recent years. The Budget and Facilities Advisory Committee wisely set minimum balances several years ago to as a way of protecting the financial health of the organization and ensuring that the County would have the strong credit rating needed to secure low-interest-rate financing for capital projects. This year, fund balances will be spent down to offset the need for levy increase: $165,000 in the general fund, $449,873 in Highway, and $560,000 in Public Health and Human Services. The County Board has discussed the need to focus the use of fund balance on one-time expenses in order to avoid adding to the levy burden in future years.
Looking at the longer-term financial picture, the update of the CIP will provide a guide for managing and maintaining existing facilities and recommend options for accommodating future growth. Because these would be major expenditures, the County plans to host two open house meetings that the public can attend to learn about the current state of the County’s capital assets and proposals to accommodate future space and service needs. While the meetings have not been scheduled yet, we hope to hold them before the end of the year, and details will be publicized through broadcast and social media and on the County’s website. From my perspective, getting public feedback on capital expenditures before any plans are approved by the County Board is vitally important, and I know the Commissioners are eager to hear your thoughts on the plan. For those who are unable to attend the open houses, we will be posting information about the draft CIP on the County’s website and providing a means for the public to submit comments electronically. As always, I welcome your thoughts about the CIP or any other issues of concern and invite you to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-387-3687.
County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service
By: James Joerke, Cook County Administrator
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About Cook County Minnesota
Cook County is at the tip of Minnesota's Arrowhead region in the remote northeastern part of the state, stretching from the shores of Lake Superior to the US-Canada border. By land it borders Ontario, Canada to the north, and Lake County, MN to the west. The highest point in Minnesota, Eagle Mountain is 2,301 feet and the highest lake, Total Area equals 3,339.72 sq miles
Cook County is home to three national protected areas:
Grand Portage National Monument
Superior National Forest
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Cook County include:
Grand Marais Lutsen Mountains
Gunflint Trail Superior Hiking Trail
Snow Depth Minnesota
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