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Stevens Co. Commissioners approve 7.29 percent levy increase for 2013

MORRIS -- The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted 3 - 2 for a 2013 tax levy of about $6.35 million, a 7.29 percent increase over 2012, at their meeting Tuesday.

The budget includes about $13.3 million in expenses, a 7.1 percent increase over the final budget for 2012. The budget also includes about $6.6 million in revenues, a 4.9 percent increase over 2012.

An anticipated cut in County Program Aid, from about $695,000 in 2012 down to $516,200 in 2013, accounts for nearly 37 percent of the proposed levy increase.

Commissioners Larry Sayre, Jeanne Ennen and Paul Watzke voted for the budget, while Commissioners Ron Staples and Phil Gausman voted against it.

Last Friday, Dec. 14, the board met in a work session to try and lower the proposed levy from the preliminary levy increase of 8.83 percent they approved in July.

Staples had presented a list of 14 potential changes to the budget, including cutting back salary increases for department heads, non-union employees and elected officials from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent. In the 2013 budget, a cut from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent would result in a savings of about $16,000.

Staples argued that the union employees - who are getting a 1.25 percent raise for 2013 - will ask for a similar wage increase in their next contract, creating county-wide wage increases of 2.5 percent.

Watzke disagreed, noting that he thought a 2.5 percent increase was necessary to prevent the county from needed to make a more "radical" adjustment later to keep the pay scales of different groups of county employees similar.

Gausman also disagreed with the salary increase.

"Who catches up the people who pay your salaries?" Gausman asked at the budget work session. "They don't catch up. ... There is no free money tree out back that I know of."

Since 2006, the last time the county did a pay equity study, differences have developed between the different union pay scales and the pay scales for other county employees. The 2.5 percent increase for 2013 was designed to help bring those pay charts closer together, said County Coordinator Brian Giese.

The board also authorized IT Director Scott Bushe to hire a second county IT technician in 2013. At a budget work session on Dec. 14, Busche told the board that hiring a third technician would help save money on service contracts and keep IT services within the county.

The board will set the salaries for elected officials at their final meeting of the year.

Other business

• The board approved tobacco licenses for Amoco Foodshop, By-Lo Gas and Groceries, Casey's General Store, Cenex South, Hancock Coop, HD & Co., Jerry's U-Save, Tri County Coop, Willie's Super Valu and Family Dollar.

• Human Resources Director Janet Raguse outlined the process she planned to use to recruit a GIS Technician, a position the board approved hiring earlier this month. If the timeline is followed, the county may extend an offer to a finalist before the end of January 2013.

• The board set their final meeting of the year for Monday, Dec. 31 at 9:00 a.m. at the Stevens County Courthouse. The meeting will be followed by a reception at 10:30 a.m. for Commissioners Larry Sayre and Paul Watzke who will both be finishing their terms on the board at the end of 2012.