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Commissioners approve preliminary levy increase of 4.56 percent

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MORRIS, Minn. -- The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a preliminary tax levy increase of 4.56 percent, about $290,000, for 2014.

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The preliminary 2014 budget includes about $13.5 million in expenditures, a two percent increase over 2013 and $6.56 million in revenues, a .36 percent decrease from 2013.

This left about a $7.36 million gap to be made up with a combination of state aid, tax levy and a spend down of reserves.

Despite a $40 million investment in county program aid by the Minnesota Legislature, Stevens County saw a 25 percent decrease in state aid, a loss of about $128,000. The county's total allotment is about $388,000. After spending down about $332,000 in reserves, the county was left with a preliminary levy of about $6.64 million, a $290,000 increase over 2013.

About half of the 4.56 percent increase is to make up for the cut in state aid.

This year, the Minnesota legislature placed a levy limit on local governments. Stevens County's maximum levy was certified at about $6.35 million plus additional special levies. The county has about $584,500 in special levies, which effectively made the county's levy limit about $6.9 million, County Coordinator Brian Giese told the board on Tuesday.

The $6.64 million preliminary levy is under the maximum levy the county could have adopted, but still slightly higher than the levy passed in 2013.

Local governments are required to pass a preliminary budget and levy in September. The budget passed Tuesday can be lowered, but not increased, before a final adoption in December. The board will approve a final budget and levy at a public meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m.

Board supports PrimeWest effort to develop health plan

In the face of uncertainty about how the Affordable Care Act will impact how the county offers health care for employees, they voted 4 to 1 in favor of investing about $32,000 over three years into a project by PrimeWest Health to look into a county-owned employee health care program.

PrimeWest Health is a county-based purchasing health plan owned by 13 counties in west central Minnesota, developed to provides insurance coverage and manage and pay for the care of the individuals who qualify for Minnesota Health Care Programs. Over the next two years, the organization wants to look at whether it can develop a county employee health plan that offers a comprehensive health coverage plan that is at least better than what member counties offer now, Jim Przybilla, CEO of PrimeWest Health reiterated Tuesday.

Stevens County currently offers county employees $750 per month through a cafeteria plan to purchase health insurance on the open market. One attorney has indicated that the county's plan will qualify under provisions of the Affordable Care Act, while another believes the county could face penalties if they don't provide a plan.

To support developing the program, PrimeWest asked counties to contribute a proportionate share to support the expected 2.5 year development period. Stevens County's total is about $32,000 -- $3,940 in 2013, $13,700 in 2014, and $15,000 in 2015. As part of the process for deciding whether an employee health plan is feasible, PrimeWest will be looking to recruit other entities into joining the program. If that happens, counties could have their initial investments reimbursed.

If PrimeWest determines that they can't create a viable plan, counties will not pay out the entire development sum.

Commissioners Jeanne Ennen, Bob Kopitzke, Donny Wohlers and Ron Staples voted to move forward with the plan, while Commissioner Phil Gausman voted against it.

Other business

• The board authorized Sheriff Jason Dingman to advertise internally for Chief Deputy Sheriff. Dingman said the new position would not add staff to the department, but instead would be a promotion for a currently deputy. The chief deputy will split time supervising staff and performing functions of a sheriff's deputy. Dingman said the position would help provide structure in the sheriff's office.

• The board approved a tax levy of $179,000 for the Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, a $6,990 increase over 2012.

• The board authorized Veterans Service Officer Hugh Reimers to execute a grant through the County Veterans Service Office Enhancement Grant Program. Reimers said most of the money will be used for a veterans outreach event at the Morris Armory planned for Friday, Oct. 11.

• The board authorized County Engineer Brian Giese to look at the state of the parking lot at the Stevens County DAC building. Executive Director Emmy Kvatum asked the board for help sealcoating the parking lot, but the board voted to table the request until later in the month so they could decide what the best long-term fix for the parking lot would be.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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