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County approves 5.9 percent preliminary levy increase

The Hubbard County Board approved a preliminary payable 2019 levy of $15,144,000 at their Sept. 18 meeting.

That's an $844,000, or 5.9 percent, increase over the 2018 final levy of $14,300,000.

County commissioner Char Christenson said she recently learned that neighboring counties are increasing their levies anywhere between 1 and 17.5 percent.

"Social services are killing a lot of counties, and so we should be thankful that our social services are in as good of financial shape as it's in," she said, adding other counties are withdrawing funds from their reserves to cover social services expenses and keep their levies lower.

The board was unanimous in wanting to build up Hubbard County's general fund reserves.

"They're not at the lowest level, but they're not at where the state is saying we need to be either, so that's one of the reasons we're looking at an increase like this," Christenson said.

County commissioner Dan Stacey agreed.

"Reserves are going down, and that's not healthy. When I first came on the board, we were healthy, and we're going the opposite direction," he said.

Hubbard County Auditor/Treasurer Kay Rave said, in 2018, the county social services department budgeted to dip into their reserves $1.6 million, "but as of Aug. 31, they had improved $397,000 to the good, so that's an almost $2 million swing. They are actually growing their reserves," she said. "Their expenses have been consistently low."

Rave said it would be easier to understand social services' budget if it was closer to actual revenues and expenses.

Board chair Cal Johannsen said, "We're living really close to these counties that are going broke because of social services. My concern is that we have to be careful we don't get too lean and have something catastrophic happen."

Social Services Director Deb Vizecky noted that, in 2019, several federal and state funds will no longer be available, so county dollars will be spent instead.

The proposed 2019 levy includes $8,285,350 for the general fund; $3 million for road and bridges; $2,750,000 for social services; $208,000 for the regional library; $629,055 for the county jail bond and $271,596 for Heritage's Phase II project.

The 2019 preliminary Housing & Redevelopment Authority levy was set at $170,000. The Headwaters Regional Development Commission is budgeted $116,073.

Christenson made a motion to set the preliminary levy at $15,144,000, which carried 3-2. County commissioners Vern Massie and Ed Smith were opposed.

The final levy will be set at their Thursday, Dec. 13 truth-in-taxation hearing at 6:05 p.m.