Pine County levy up 3%

Pine County has set a 3% levy increase for 2020, up $563,719 from $18,790,664 in 2019 to $19,354,383 in 2020.

Of that increase, $343,993 comes from increases in the General Fund, and $129,052 in Health and Human Services.

Law enforcement and more

The General Fund includes the Pine County Sheriff’s Office and jail, and Pine County Administrator David Minke said that a major new expense that was recently approved was for squad and body cameras for the Pine County Sheriff’s Office. Minke said that $200,000 has been set aside in the 2020 budget for the cameras, data storage and software for video filing and retrieval – but because it is expected that the final price tag will be higher, the county will be doing funding between the 2020 and 2021 budget years.

“The system you buy comes with that [data] storage,” Minke explained. “So we can either store it internally – which means we just buy the servers ... or we do a cloud solution.”

Minke pointed out that 69% of General Fund spending goes toward public safety (law enforcement, jail, etc.), with 31% in all other areas. Looking at the budget another way, that 73% of General Fund spending goes toward personnel, while only 27% goes toward other expenses. Minke said that much of the increase in spending comes from increases in county employee salaries.

“I think if you dig down, the non-personnel line items are not increasing,” Minke said. “The increase is attributed to personnel.”

Another major addition to the 2020 General Fund is a half-time agriculture educator position through the University of Minnesota Extension office. Minke said that position comes with a $48,000 price tag.

Jail operations

Jail operations are facing a trend of fewer inmates and higher costs.

• In 2016, the average daily population was 96.8 inmates. That has dropped steadily to 72.7 inmates in 2019.

• Meanwhile, the cost per inmate per day was $100 in 2017, and has risen to $118 in 2019.

Minke noted that because of the changes, which also includes a slight drop in the average length of stay per inmate, revenue from jail operations is also down.

Health & Human Services

Out of home placements (in which children are removed from their homes) are driving up the Pine County Health & Human Services budget.

Pine County Health & Human Services Director Rebecca Foss noted that out of home placements could mean different things.

“It could be a kid going to secure detention, going to a group home,” Foss said. “Child protection, children’s mental health placements are in my budget. And Mille Lacs Band Tribal Court placements are also in my budget. So there’s a lot of things actually in my budget.”

Foss said that her department is taking steps to improve the lives of children, especially in preventative mental health.

“We have resourced our workers to try really hard ... to offer preventative services wherever possible,” Foss said. “[We] now have two social workers who spend some time in the school district working with school personnel on the front line preventing bad things from happening. I truly believe that they are preventing some reports from coming into the system at all, because they are .. trying to get families what they need so it doesn’t merit child protection.”

“Without the out of home placement increase, Becky would actually be reducing her budget from year to year, which is, I think, a huge testament to the quality of the management,” Minke said.

Special elections impact

The county has $98,034 in the 2020 budget for elections – though a chunk of that money has already been spent in the two special elections in the first months of 2019.

“In 2019 we had budgeted $30,000 in the General Fund for elections. We did blow through that budget with the special elections that we had. Of this ... $30,000 is really ... previous year spending.”

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