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Stevens County will face state-imposed levy limit for 2014

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MORRIS – Stevens County will receive more aid from the state and be exempt from paying sales tax, but will also be developing their 2014 budget with a state-imposed levy limit, County Coordinator Brian Giese told the Stevens County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

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According to a report on the Omnibus Tax Bill by the League of Minnesota Cities, starting Jan. 1, 2014, local governments will be exempt from paying sales tax on most items, other than purchases of goods or services provided by a private business.

But the sales tax exemption comes with a few caveats – it requires many cities and counties to submit an estimate of sales tax payments from 2012 to the state, and it requires municipalities to discuss the benefits of the sales tax exemption on Truth in Taxation statements and at their TNT hearings.

Both cities and counties will also receive more aid from the state, but most will have to develop their budgets with a one-year levy limit that limits revenue growth to 3 percent for taxes collected in 2014, said Giese.

But the overall tax levy will be less than 3 percent because the county will have to subtract their increase in County Program Aid. Giese estimated that Stevens County would see about $100,000 more in CPA in 2014, which would limit the tax levy to a maximum of a 1.7 percent increase.

During a discussion of the 2014 budget development process, Giese guessed that the levy limit might ultimately raise taxes if local governments need to raise taxes in 2015 to make up for any losses counties may have to absorb if they don't want to cut services.

“That's why levy limits are so frustrating – you are a elected board of commissioners making decisions at a local level and for some reason the legislature feels the need to limit your ability to do that work,” said Giese.

Stevens Forward! calculates county's carbon footprint

Anna Pratt, a student intern with Stevens Forward!, presented information about Stevens County's carbon footprint and offered the board suggestions for how to lower the county's carbon footprint.

Stevens County currently produces about approximately 1.35 million pounds more pounds of carbon dioxide that in “sequesters” or absorbs.

Pratt argued that lowering the county's carbon footprint could help lower the risk of West Nile Virus because it would shorten the mosquito season. It could also offer an opportunity to increase tourism to Stevens County from people interested in visiting a carbon-neutral county.

“The closer this county gets to carbon-neutral, the more people are going to want to come and see what's going on here,” said Pratt.

The two ways to lower the county's carbon footprint are to burn fewer fossil fuels or create more carbon sinks to collect carbon dioxide. Suggestions Pratt offered to achieve these goals included:

• Turning off all electronics and appliances at the end of the day could save a minimum of 273 pounds of carbon dioxide per year and at least $23 per year.

• Avoid printing memos or e-mails, or print double-sided to save paper. Every pound of paper that is no used could save the county 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide and about $1.75.

• Reduce the heating temperature in the winter. For every degree the temperature is lowered, the county would save about 383.6 pounds of carbon dioxide at a savings of about $43 per year.

• Create more green spaces in the community or plant more trees in existing parts and open space. Trees absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 3,791 tons per year. The county could also encourage wetland development. Certain types of wetlands absorb about 2,750 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.

In addition to presenting information to the board, Pratt developed a public service announcement that will air on the local public access station with five tips for individuals to lower their carbon footprint.

“I know that this county already does a lot to help create a more sustainable future, but there's always something else you can do – especially the little actions like unplugging things or turning things off,” said Pratt.

Other business

• The board acknowledged $5,225 in donations for the Stevens County Human Services' Youth Activity Fund. Human Services Director Joanie Murphy said donations are used to help pay for things like registration fees for sports and community education classes for youth in the community.

“It affords kids opportunities that they might not otherwise have,” Murphy said.

• The board accepted a bid of approximately $199,000 from JAAK, LLC of Le Sueur for a township road sign project. The low bid was 12.5 percent below the engineer's estimate of approximately $227,600. The federal government will pay 80 percent of the cost of the project and local townships will pay 20 percent.

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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