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County's 2011 levy max set at 14 percent

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens County commissioners approved a 14 percent maximum budget levy for 2011 with the intention of making budget adjustments that will allow them to lower it before finalizing the budget in December.

The commissioners on Tuesday approved a budget option that includes a special levy of about $245,000 to recoup money that Gov. Tim Pawlenty unallotted Stevens County as part of state budget repairs.

Counties are able to use the special levy authority this year only. Local governments also are required to set a preliminary levy. It can be lowered but can't be raised before the final budget is approved.

The budget levy includes a 9 percent increase for the cost of the new courthouse construction and renovation project. The total levy of $5.008 million is a 2.5 percent increase over last year. The remaining percentage increase is the special levy.

Interim County Coordinator Brian Giese said the levy will affect all taxpayers differently depending on their market value - whether a resident has experienced an increase or decrease - and other factors such as assessments.

Commissioners Herb Kloos, Don Munsterman, Larry Sayre and Paul Watzke voted for the budget option, which also would allow the board to keep its spend-down of reserves at about $56,000. Commissioner Ron Staples opposed it, preferring an option that would not include the special levy but would require the board to spend about $123,000 of the county's reserves. Not adding the special levy would put the county's overall 2011 levy between 9 percent and 11 percent.

"Why put it in reserve and draw very little interest," Staples said. "Let the people keep it. We can afford the $123,000 spend-down."

During Tuesday's meeting, the board heard budget requests from groups that received some level of county support. The groups included the Stevens County Historical Society, the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Stevens County Agriculture Society, which manages the county fairgrounds and fair.