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Stevens County Board passes 2012 budget in advance of Truth in Taxation hearing

MORRIS - The Stevens County Board of Commissioners passed a $12.3 million budget with a 7.22 percent levy increase at a meeting on Monday night.

The county budget for 2012 includes an increase in expenditures of about 3.5 percent over the 2011 budget, an increase from about $11.8 million in 2011 to $12.3 million in 2012. The budget also includes $6.1 million in revenues, including anticipated County Program Aid.

Of the 7.22 percent total levy increase, about 6.12 percent comes from increased debt service payments and an anticipated loss in County Program Aid from the state.

The budget that the county passed was the same budget they developed at a special budget meeting in November.

Only one group came to the board meeting ahead of Monday's Truth in Taxation hearing to request a change to the budget. Representatives from Stevens Forward!, a grass-roots organization formed in 2007 to improve communities in Stevens County, asked the board to restore $5,000 that was cut from the preliminary budget three weeks ago.

Don Reicosky, a volunteer with Stevens Forward, told the commissioners that the local support money for Stevens Forward was important for the group to leverage outside funds to help carry on programs.

"One of our primary missions is working together, and hopefully the volunteers of Stevens Forward can work with county commissioners to get something done in terms of improving our community," said Reicosky.

Board chairman Ron Staples asked the group if they could cite specific accomplishments and what benefits there would be for the county in supporting the group.

Reicosky mentioned his work trying to measure the carbon footprint of Stevens County and to find ways lower the county's carbon footprint.

Stevens Forward Coordinator Carolyn Peterson said Stevens Forward had worked with other local groups to help secure a $100,000 broadband grant, and that Stevens Forward helps show outsiders that Stevens County is a proactive community.

Peterson said she has also been working on developing a "virtual community" in Stevens County - a new website that includes local business listings and, eventually, a smartphone app for the county.

Commissioner Paul Watzke - who serves as the chair of Stevens Forward - said the group was working to reverse the flow of residents out of the county and that it was "worthy of reconsidering that budget request."

When the board took up the budget, County Coordinator Brian Giese said the board would hear comments about it at the Truth in Taxation hearing scheduled for later in the evening.

"It's sort of the cart before the horse," Giese said, "Yet you do have the opportunity to set another meeting and change [the budget] based on those comments if you want to."

On a voice vote, the board passed the budget as presented without any further discussion about specific budget items.

Other business

• County Engineer Brian Giese told the board that he's thankful it hasn't been snowing every day this December, which means that Highway Department staff have been able to work on projects like hauling rocks to gravel pits and continuing with equipment and shop maintenance.

• The board approved a resolution to allow Giese to apply for money from the state Local Road Improvement Program to help pay for improvements to MCSAH 9 in Alberta. Applying for the money will free up county funds for other projects, but would likely delay when the improvement project begins.

• The board declined to take action on providing support for a Veterans Justice Corps member to work with veterans in the justice system. Commissioner Larry Sayer said he was opposed to committing to the position because of the low number of people who might be impacted. Commissioners Phil Gausman and Ron Staples agreed with Sayer.

• The board set their year end meeting for Friday, Dec. 30 at 9 a.m. At that meeting the board will likely consider end-of-the-year bills, approve the salaries for elected officials and non-union employees and take on any other business.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 9 a.m.