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Stevens County plans 4.56 percent tax increase for 2014

MORRIS – The Stevens County Board of Commissioners will consider a 4.56 percent tax levy increase when they approve their final budget and levy later this month.

The board reviewed the budget at a public hearing on Tuesday night.

The proposed budget includes about $13.55 million in total expenditures, a 2.15 percent increase over the budget for 2013.

The county expects to bring in about $6.56 million in revenues, a .36 percent decrease from 2013. This decrease also includes a 25 percent reduction in County Program Aid, which dropped from about $516,000 in 2013 to just under $388,000 for 2014.

To help keep the levy down, the proposed budget includes a spend down of about $352,000 from county reserves, leaving a proposed tax levy of about $6.64 million, a 4.56 increase from 2013.

During the public hearing, County Coordinator Brian Giese shared some statistics about how the county spends money. Of the county’s total expenditures of $13.55 million:

  • 33.4 percent is allocated for highways and streets;
  • 27 percent is used for general government;
  • 18.6 percent is designated for social services;
  • 12.2 percent is devoted to public safety;
  • 4.3 percent is used for debt service payments on the courthouse renovation project;
  • 2.1 percent is used for recreation and culture, which includes allocations for groups like the Stevens County Historical Society and the Viking Library System;
  • 1 percent is allocated for public health; 
  • .9 percent is allocated for conservation; and
  • .5 percent for economic development.

Giese also broke down how money from the local tax levy specifically is allocated, indicating which services are supplemented by other state and federal aid.

Highways and streets account for just 16.7 percent of the levy, for example, while public safety uses about 21 percent. Debt service payments account for about 8.8 percent of the proposed local tax levy.

The commissioners had very few comments on the proposed budget, which looks very similar to the preliminary budget that was approved in September. 

Commissioner Ron Staples said he was uncomfortable with the reserve spending of $352,000.

“That’s a number that really bothers me, to spend down that much money,” said Staples.

Giese noted that the majority of the spend down is allocated in the Human Services fund, which has a surplus above the state auditor’s recommended fund balance.

“We’ve had a pretty long track record of not spending that down,” said Giese.

Giese also pointed out that about $80,000 of the reserve spending is dedicated to one-time expenses in a newly-proposed capital improvement fund. Some of those potential expenses include building improvements at the highway department and development of a comprehensive zoning plan for the county.

“I understand that it’s a troubling number for your, commissioner, but I do think, county wide, you’re still in financially good shape with this budget,” Giese said.

The board is scheduled to finalize the budget at their next meeting on Dec. 17.

Other business

  • The board approved hiring Molly Taffe for a temporary, part-time position with Stevens County Human Services. Taffe will be filling in three days per week through May while another staff member is out on medical leave.
  • The board received a dividend of $111,267 from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust. About $54,000 is related to workers’ compensation coverage and $57,000 is attributed to property and casualty coverage.