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Local governments reorganize for 2009

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners, the Morris City Council and the Morris Area School Board will meet early next week to swear in newly elected members and reorganize for 2009.

The school board will swear in three new members and one incumbent at its meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 5 at the high school Media Center.

Incumbent Brent Fuhrman was elected to his second four-year term and will be sworn in along with new members Dick Metzger, James Solvie and Stan Wulf. Fuhrman's current tenure will be short, however. At the board's December meeting, Fuhrman, a National Guard sergeant, received a temporary leave of absence related to his unit's expected deployment overseas this spring. The board is working to find an interim member.

The board will also elect a chairperson and other officers, approve meeting dates and times and take care of other organizational business.

The Morris City Council meets at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 6 to swear in incumbents Bill Storck and Matt Carrington, who were reelected in November. The council also will take care of routine organizational business.

The Stevens County board meets at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, to swear in incumbents Larry Sayre to his third four-year term and Paul Watzke to his second term, and Ron Staples to his first term. Staples succeeds Neal Hofland as the 3rd District commissioner. Hofland is retiring after serving eight years.

At its regular meeting last week, the county commissioners approved 3 percent pay increases for staff, and honored Hofland with a resolution declaring Dec. 31, 2008 as Neal Hofland Day, and at a reception following his final meeting as commissioner and board chair.

The commissioners' pay will increase almost $489 to $16,787 in 2009, and the per diem of $60 per day per diem will remain the same.

The commissioners also are all appointed to serve on 22 committees, and one or two commissioners are assigned to another 40 committees with connections to county governance, such as the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission, Rainbow Rider and Prime West.

The assignments typically are rolled over from one year to the next, but some shifts could take place with Staples succeeding Hofland.

The board will also establish pay for elected officials. In 2009, Auditor/Treasurer Neil Weise will be paid $70,298, Sheriff Randy Willis will be paid $70,766, Recorder Virginia Mahoney will be paid $69,965, and County Attorney Charles Glasrud will be paid $107,540.

Willis could receive an addition $8,725 for working as the county's Emergency Management Director.

Glasrud's office also has asked to forfeit additional health insurance and associated benefits for 2009 and have that money instead allocated for part-time secretarial work.

The board also will vote on a resolution establishing compensation for appointed officials and non-union and supervisory positions.

In other board business:

• The county approved a resolution to approve a special benefit levy for the Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

The levy can be used to pay certain administrative costs of the HRA.

According to state statute, the county can collect a special benefit tax of 0.0185 percent of the taxable market value of all real estate in the county.

The county HRA is seeking $140,000 through the levy, which doesn't exceed the 0.0185 percentage.

The county also approved the HRA's 2009 budget.

• The board reviewed and approved a summary of changes to the AFSCME union contract agreed to by the parties.

County Coordinator Jim Thoreen also recommended staying with a 3 percent pay hike for 2009, despite a problematic economy, to avoid negotiations troubles in future years.

By limiting pay hikes now, negotiators almost certainly will come back in the future and demand make-up compensation increases when the economy improves, Thoreen said.

It's been his experience that it's prudent to keep the pay hikes steady compared to trying to negotiate contracts when both sides are far apart on the percentage of compensation, he said.