BLUE EARTH - Faribault County commissioners voted Tuesday to increase the property tax levy by 2.5 percent, or $231,471, in 2013.
However, they expressed strong opinions on where the money goes, especially after hearing from Tim Penny, president of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.
Penny told commissioners that SMIF has helped 22 small, regional businesses with start-up loans; provided technical support; distributed books; and visited homes to give guidance on parenting, among other things.
"We'd like to do more work in your county," said Penny, adding that SMIF has about $5 million in resources for early childhood and entrepreneurial endeavors.
He and commissioners also talked about how to distribute locally grown foods in the area, especially to schools.
SMIF can be contacted at (507) 455-3215 or smifoundation.org
When discussing the levy, commissioners remembered what Penny said his organization could do.
"I'm pretty comfortable capping it at 2.5 percent," said Commissioner Tom Loveall, who wasn't happy that some expenses, such as health care plans, went up by more than 40 percent. "I want to see how it's clearly spelled out. The status quo, in my opinion, is no longer acceptable."
"The only way I'll vote for the budget as presented is if the money allocated to [the county] EDA goes to SMIF," said Commissioner Bill Groskreutz.
Loveall pointed out the Economic Development Authority is autonomous, not relying on commissioners.
Other commissioners said SMIF and the Faribault County Development Corporation do the same thing.
"SMIF has access to dollars; FCDC doesn't," Groskreutz said.
The battle isn't over: commissioners still must set the 2013 county budget later this year.
In other business, Cindy Lyon distributed new guides from the Blue Earth Area Chamber of Commerce. The guides include information on the Faribault County Historical Society, all local churches, and information on every city.
Commissioner Greg Young asked about expanding the little Red Barn near the Green Giant statue in Blue Earth.
Lyon plans to display the 109,000 hats collected by Bucky Legred, but doesn't have room to display even a portion of them.
The Red Barn is important for local tourism, Lyon said, drawing people from 23 countries and all 50 states.
"A hope, a dream, a possibility to expand," she said.
In other business, the board, set Sept. 24 for the solid waste public hearing, on the fee for recycling in the townships and the Prairieland facility's rate.