Cass County kicked off its 2022 budget and levy work with a preliminary tax levy increase but will be looking at ways to reduce that number before final adoption.

After lengthy discussion at the Tuesday, Sept. 7, county board meeting, the Cass County Commissioners approved a preliminary 2022 tax levy increase of 3.5% above the 2021 levy. The increase was higher than the recommended increase from the Citizens Budget Committee, but the increase came with a stipulation that the county department heads and budget committee try to reduce it as much as possible.

County Administrator Josh Stevenson said going forward, the county won’t be able to continue having low levy increases if they wish to continue to have a reserve balance. The recommended amount of levy increase from the Citizen Budget Committee was a 2.5% increase, which was considerably lower than the 5.73% increase it would have been with all of the departmental head requests.

The budget committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 8, to meet with department heads to continue lowering their 2022 budget requests.

Stevenson told with the board Pillager officials recently informed the county the location for the commissioner’s final “road show” meeting of the season recently became unavailable. Instead, commissioners approved holding the Sept. 21 meeting at the Fairview Township town hall.

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Election Administrator Pamela Smith presented the 2020 Cass County census results, noting that the population has increased by 1,499 citizens from the 2010 census. Smith also noted District 5, in the northern part of Cass County, would need to be redistricted due to the shift in population greater than 10%. However, there will be no need to hold any special elections for commissioners as the districts affected are slated for normal re-election during the 2022 election.

After extensive work with local groups and private parties to secure a new location for a recycling drop-off site near the city of Walker, a location has been found, Environmental Service Director John Ringle informed the board. Woods-N-Water Trading Post Company, also known as Reed’s Family Outdoor Outfitters, has offered a location nearby the previous location on Ottertail Road Northwest, the site of the former Stewart’s Automotive. The businesses have requested that the county supply gravel and have the county highway department grade and level the site in preparation.

Ringle also said there are other possible additional sites in discussion for the city of Walker, which would help prevent one site being overused. In answering questions from board members, Ringle said no fence was currently planned for the site, the property owners would remove snow and there is a possibility security cameras would be placed at the site as soon as a wireless internet connection was established.

In other business, the county board:

Approved a request to fill the vacant forest resource manager position after hearing the work plan and staffing options from the land department.

Approved a memorandum of agreement with Birch Lake Township for Cass County to maintain the portion of 44th Street Northwest that provides access to the Cass County Walker/Hackensack Transfer Station.

Heard the Longville ambulance 2021 second quarter report from Kevin Lee, ambulance service manager for North Memorial Health, who said numbers continue to be lower that budgeted with the net margin being a 9.1% decrease.

Approved the Minnesota Department of Transportation grant agreement to replace the bridge on County Road 103 through the Local Bridge Replacement Program in the amount of $124,721.

Authorized the Highway Department to send offer letters to property owners affected by the County State Aid Highway 70 realignment projected due to needing additional right-of-way for an estimated value of $132,000.

Approved a road project agreement with the USDA and Chippewa National Forest for Cass County to place and level gravel on East Pike Bay Loop purchased by Chippewa National Forest.

Awarded contracts to Leech Lake Lumber in the amount of $22,378 for materials and to Hytec Construction in the amount of $52,547 for equipment and labor to erect a new salt shed in Cass Lake.

Approved McLaughlin Auctioneers as the online bidding service for the annual County Highway Department auction of surplus equipment to begin Sept. 28 and end Oct. 12.

The next meetings are as follows: 9/11 observance 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11, at the veterans podium, courthouse lawn, Walker; commissioner’s board meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, at Fairview Township, 10219 County Road 77 SW, Nisswa; and commissioner’s board meeting, 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, at the boardroom in the courthouse annex in Walker.

Kyndra Johnson is the Cass County correspondent.