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County approves 2011 tax levy, budget

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved a 2011 levy of almost 13 percent, but the increase if affected by the first debt service payment for the new courthouse and other factors.

The commissioners approved the levy and budget at their meeting Tuesday.

In addition to increasing debt service by almost $324,000 for the courthouse renovation, the county significantly reduced its spend-down of reserves from this year's total, and factored in is expected reductions in County Program Aid from the State of Minnesota.

The county's base and special levy total for 2011 will be $5,517,341, the county was able to reduce the levy by $15,000 after the board approved a five-year rental agreement with the City of Morris for courthouse space for the city police department.

The county will be spending down about $255,000 less from its reserves in 2011 and the state's CAP is expected to be about $44,000 less in 2011 than it was this year. The levy increase for courthouse debt service is about 6.6 percent of the total 2011 levy hike.

"Our spending really didn't change that much," said interim County Coordinator Brian Giese.

Total expenses for all county funds for 2011 will be about $11,850,000.

In other county business:

• The board approved an rental agreement with the City of Morris for space in the new Law Enforcement Center in the soon-to-reopen courthouse.

The Morris City Council approved the agreement last week.

The city will pay $15,000 annually, in monthly payments, for office space and utilities for its police department. Morris police and the county will both operated from the LEC.

• The commissioners approved a Wind Energy Conversion Systems Ordinance on Tuesday.

The ordinance was crafted by the county's Planning Commission over the course of four meetings. Two public meetings were held in November on the ordinance.

The ordinance sets out rules, requirements and standards that must be adhered to if anyone wishes to create wind energy or build a wind energy business. The ordinance applies to systems up to 5 megawatts. For larger systems, the Public Utilities Commission has regulatory responsibilities.

• The board approved an updated joint powers agreement with 14 other counties in the "Supporting Hands" Nurse Family Partnership initiative.

Through "Supporting Hands," home visits are made to first-time, low-income pregnant women for about 2-1/2 years. The nurses make regular visits of between one hour and 90 minutes to provide care and education until the children are 2 years old.

The joint powers agreement had to be amended to allow the inclusion of Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties into the initiative. The other counties involved in "Supporting Hands" are: Stevens; Big Stone; Grant; Meeker; Pope; Renville; Traverse; Douglas; McLeod; Pipestone; Redwood and Yellow Medicine.

• The county approved a tobacco use policy for the new courthouse and other county property.

The policy prohibits the use of tobacco in all county-owned vehicles, equipment and buildings, and in any areas that are within 20 feet of entrances, air intakes and windows.

The policy states that each county facility will provide one designated outside area where tobacco use is permitted. The location must be at least 20 feet from entrances, air intakes and windows, and signs must be posted designating the area for tobacco use. Tobacco use is permitted in private vehicles used for county business unless another person is present.

Violations of the policy can result in employee discipline.