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County hit with $20,000 sales tax bill

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens County was presented with what County Attorney Charles Glasrud called a "$20,000 surprise" at the county board's meeting Tuesday.

A Minnesota Department of Revenue sales tax review showed the county owes $19,832 in sales tax not collected between Jan. 1, 2005 and March 31, 2008.

County Auditor-Treasurer Neil Wiese presented a view of the audit which showed the county neglected to collect sales tax on such things as courthouse purchases, highway department sales and purchases and public health purchases.

The total tax bill was about $17,000, with about $2,700 in interest payments tacked on. Wiese said the Department of Revenue did not fine the county, but "we need to do a better job or there could be penalties in the future."

Departments have been notified to more closely monitor transactions. For example, vendors from outside the state might not charge Minnesota sales tax on an item, and if the charge is not tacked on it's the county's responsibility to pay the tax, Wiese said.

The audit was the county's first in 12 years, and the total was about $60,000 until audit errors and other discrepancies were discovered and corrected, he said.

Other information still is being collected, and the board stated it would wait to see the results before authorizing payment to the state.

In other county business:

• The board adopted a resolution calling for the planning of public safety communication within the county.

The Federal Communications Commission is requiring the replacement of Land Mobile Radio systems operating on VHF and UHF spectrums by 2013.

The county has worked with the Central Minnesota Regional Radio Board to assess public safety communication alternatives and adopted the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) as its replacement.

Tuesday's vote instructs Sheriff Randy Willis to develop a "participation plan" and a proposed budget for integrating the ARMER system in the county.

Willis' plan would then be submitted to the regional radio board, the Statewide Radio Board and the state departments of transportation and safety for approval to participate in the ARMER system.

• The board approved beginning the process to adopt a Wind Energy Conversion Systems ordinance.

The county has had an interim ordinance in place, but its timeframe has expired.

The ordinance is based on Pipestone County's version. The new ordinance must be at least as restrictive on what types of wind generation systems are allowed and useage as state law.

The county Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance, and the commissioners also would hold a hearing on the proposal before adopting it.

• The board approved Willis' recommendation to hire a fifth full-time dispatcher, fill an existing opening and cut a part-time spot.

The move would cost more for a full-time hire, but would significantly reduce overtime hours put in by part-timers. The county would likely break even financially, and having full-time staff makes scheduling more efficient, Willis said.

"It'll work," he said. "It'll save us some money."

Last year, dispatchers worked 300 overtime hours at time-and-a-half pay. Part-time dispatchers worked 2,000 in 2008, he said.

He predicted the move would cut overtime worked in half.