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Health costs and prison closure lead to levy hike in Swift Co.

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BENSON -- Swift County Commissioners gave preliminary approval this week to a levy of $8,235,250 for 2011. That's a 3.6 percent increase from the previous year.

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The driving force behind the $286,833 levy increase is salary negotiations, increased health care insurance costs and revenue losses from the closure of the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, said Auditor Byron Giese.

Besides a $500,000 shift in property taxes from the prison that will be carried by other taxpayers, Giese said the solid waste fund is currently operating at a $75,000 deficit that he attributes to the prison's closure and lost revenue.

The county's preliminary budget is $17,693,519, which includes a proposed deficit of $247,000.

Giese said he uses conservative budgeting techniques that include not "overstating" revenues and making sure all expenditures are included.

Even though the budget reflects a deficit, Giese expects the end result to be a budget surplus.

Final action on the budget and levy will be taken in December.

Giese said an auction of tax-forfeited property last month brought in $26,800 to the county, which will pay for back-taxes and expenses on the properties.

The seven properties that were sold will now be put back on the tax rolls.

There are still 13 tax-forfeited properties that have not yet been sold. Most of the properties are in Appleton.

In other action:

- The Swift County Board of Commissioners and members of the Rural Development Authority met to discuss past miscommunication that has led to confusion about issuing low-interest loans for businesses. Steps are being taken to ensure that efforts for economic development are carried out without future problems.

- A contract was signed for $7,750 with True North Tower of Sauk Rapids to move communication equipment for the Sheriff's Office to a new tower.

- The commissioners reviewed information about the so-called "Next Generation 911" -- upgraded emergency communication to better make use of wireless devices, texting, etc. The initiative could include making changes to dispatch equipment, and commissioners agreed to continue pursuing efforts to move to an 800-megahertz radio system.

The timeline for that transition has been pushed back to 2013, in part because of time needed to obtain grants. The radio transition is part of the state's Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response. The ARMER system provides an interoperable communication network that, when fully implemented, will allow emergency personnel from different cities and counties to talk to each other while responding to incidents.

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