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Stevens County to purchase squad car, board plans budget discussion

MORRIS - The Stevens County Board of Commissioners authorized the Stevens County Sheriff's office to purchase a new squad car at their regular meeting on Tuesday.

Deputy Sheriff Jason Dingman said the office compared the prices of buying a squad car from both Nelson Ford in Fergus Falls and Valu Ford in Morris.

Although a vehicle from Nelson Ford would cost slightly less than a vehicle from Valu Ford, the board indicated they would prefer to buy the vehicle locally for $25,985.

Dingman reported that Valu Ford offered $9,000 for the trade-in of a current squad car, an Envoy with hail damage and in need of new tires.

Valu Ford will require a $500 deposit and the wait period will be between five and six weeks. The vehicle will be purchased using existing revenue, including forfeiture funds and an insurance settlement. With vehicle upgrades, the total price for the new squad car will be $32,000, which does not include the $9,000 from the trade-in.

Board to further discuss budget

County department heads have been directed to find cuts to non-mandated services and explore the implication of those potential cuts in preparation for a budget work session on Monday, Oct. 8 to discuss the 2013 budget and levy.

The board passed a preliminary levy increase of 8.83 percent at the beginning of September, but has until the end of the year to pass a final budget.

"If we're looking at any major decreases we're going to have to really talk about what services we're going to be cutting - that's the big impact here," said Sayre.

Sayre also encouraged the board to start looking at the budget for 2014 and 2015 to see what cuts and changes the county may need to make in the future.

"There's probably still time to look at refining [the 2013] budget and bringing that number down," said Commissioner Paul Watzke. "I don't expect we're going to bring it down by a big percentage because we have locked into additional hires for next year and that's a huge impact."

Watzke suggested that each department head come to the meeting with a suggestion about how to reduce their budgets by five percent and what the implications might be.

Commissioner Jeanne Ennen asked for department heads to provide information about services the county provides that are not mandated

County to join lawsuit against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

The board voted to have Stevens County join Hennepin County and other Minnesota counties in a federal court class action lawsuit against loan investor companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Stevens County Attorney Aaron Jordan said that Hennepin County will represent Minnesota counties and back all of the lawsuit costs. If the Minnesota counties win the case, each county will receive compensation from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, although Jordan says the compensation amounts are uncertain at this point.

Michael Freeman, the attorney from Hennepin County bringing the lawsuit, said in a report that the lawsuit addresses the companies' claim that they are exempt from paying deed transfer taxes on real estate. With the foreclosure of homes, the owner of the loan becomes the homeowner; therefore, loan investors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are believed to have come into possession of thousands of Minnesota properties since 2005, the report stated.

By a conservative estimate, Freeman said the two companies could owe "approximately $10 million in deed transfer taxes based on statewide average home prices, and approximately $11.2 million based on the metro area average."

Counties in other states have filed suit against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, drawing on a Supreme Court's case decision on taxation, ruled that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not exempt from paying this tax. Exemptions apply only to direct taxes, and the deed transfer tax is considered an excise, or indirect, tax, in which the transfer of the title is being taxed, and not the property itself.

Other business

• The board approved a petition for outlet on County Ditch 25. The petitioner, Merrill Carlson, wanted to add 120 acres at the top of the ditch system with a new tile project. Carlson said the land is already draining into the ditch, but he hasn't paid for an outlet.

The board, acting as the county drainage authority, charged Carlson a $1,500 one-time outlet fee and set the ditch benefits at $4.60 per acre.

• The board authorized Human Services Director Joanie Murphy to contract for a part-time supervisor for the income maintenance workers in her department. Murphy said her long-term solution to her department's staffing needs could involve contracting for part time help with Grant County and would keep the board appraised.

• The board recognized the Human Services Department staff for a clean audit from Prime West Health, the county-based purchasing health plan operated and governed by the 13 rural Minnesota counties that Stevens County is part of.

The board also recognized child support worker Barb Gades, who will receive an individual award for her work.

• Ennen told the board that a committee working on artwork for the courthouse was still looking for submissions. Right now, the committee has received 10 pieces, but is looking for between 35 and 40.

Ennen said she has asked cities to submit pieces from their festivals, but "there are organizations out there that it would be nice to have some representation as well."