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Stevens County looks at 4.56 tax increase for 2014

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MORRIS, Minn. -- After learning that Stevens County will see another decrease in state aid for 2014, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners is considering a 4.56 percent tax levy increase for the next fiscal year.

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The total proposed levy for 2014 is about $6.64 million, about $290,000 more than the levy for 2013. About two percent of that increase is to make up for a $128,000 reduction in county program aid, County Coordinator Brian Giese told the board on Tuesday.

The overall budget includes about $13.5 million in expenditures, a two percent increase over 2013, and $6.6 million in revenues, a .36 percent decrease from 2013.

The board still has several areas to made adjustments to the budget, including a variety of one-time capital improvement projects that are still under consideration.

At this time, the budget includes $7,500 for sprinklers at the Lee Center, $20,000 for improvement to the county highway garage, $11,000 for new election software, $20,500 to develop a county comprehensive plan for planning and zoning, and $14,000 to contribute to a proposed health plan development effort.

The commissioners also have the option to adjust how they spend down their reserves to adjust the levy, Giese said.

Over the last several years, Stevens County has seen a sharp drop in "property tax relief" in the form of county program aid. Giese estimated that the county received more than $1 million about five years ago. In 2014, the county's CPA allocation will be about $388,000.

The county has also had to increase taxes to pay for a debt service levy on the courthouse improvement project.

The board will approve a preliminary levy by mid-September and the final levy in December.

County pledges $51,000 for new Pomme de Terre River Association Board

Stevens County will contribute about $17,000 per year over the next three years to help the new Pomme de Terre River Association build their fund balance.

Coordinator Brett Arne previously told the board that the $120,000 commitment from the counties in the watershed would provide an adequate fund balance to cash-flow projects that will ultimately be repaid with grants.

The amount also provides enough money to keep a coordinator employed for one year if a grant isn't awarded. If the watershed misses getting awarded a grant for two years, the joint powers board will dissolve.

"Growth is one of the biggest reasons why we're looking at this," said Arne.

Prior to 2014, any grants awarded to the PDT Watershed were combined with money earned by the Stevens County Soil and Water Conservation District, which hosted the group. Now that the PDT watershed is separating, the organization will need their own fund balance to fund projects.

Separating the organization to its own joint powers board helps remove liability from SWCD and Stevens County and spreads the liability among all the counties in the watershed.

Commissioners Ron Staples and Bob Kopitzke said the total fund balance seemed like too much compared to other organizations. However, the board voted unanimously to approve the pledge.

Other business

• The board authorized Human Services Director Joanie Murphy to continue paying for hourly assistance from outside the county to help her staff keep up on applications for income maintenance programs. Both of the staff members in that area are going through training and need time to get familiar with the programs, Murphy said.

• Murphy told the board that her office received a clean audit from Prime West on their special needs basic care cases thanks to the hard work from local social workers and public health workers.

• The board accepted an anonymous donation through West Central Initiative of $5,000 to the Ag Society for the 4-H Exhibit Building at the Stevens County Fairgrounds. Auditor/Treasurer Neil Wiese indicated that the anonymous donor may be making more donations in the future.

• The board heard 2014 allocation requests from representatives for the Viking Library System and the Ag Society. The Viking Library System requested a 2.5 percent increase over 2013 to $56,144 per year. The Ag Society requested the same amount as 2013, $35,200.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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