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Commissioners approve 4.56 percent tax levy increase

MORRIS – The Stevens County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve nearly the same budget and tax levy increase they preliminarily approved in September.

As a result, some increases in department budgets that were added in the interim will not be reflected in the final budget. The overall tax levy of about $6.64 million, a 4.56 percent increase over the 2013 levy, will remain the same.

Since September, the board decreased expenses by $18,500 by moving a planned pictometry project out of the general fund budget and into a fund that is not supported by local tax dollars.

But over the same time period, a change in staffing in the Sheriff’s Department increased expenses in that area – a change Commissioner Ron Staples was critical of on Tuesday. These shifts resulted in a slightly higher spend down of county reserves.

In the preliminary budget, the total expenditures for the sheriff’s office came to about $1.41 million.

In the interim, deputy Tom Loew was promoted to chief deputy, which included a salary increase.

In his new position, Loew is also not eligible for overtime pay. However, County Coordinator Brian Giese said that he and Sheriff Jason Dingman did not cut the budgeted overtime hours for a fifth deputy from the budget because, in the past, the sheriff’s office has exceeded that budget line.

As a result of those changes, the budget for the sheriff's office increased to about $1.43 million between the preliminary budget and the final budget the board was considering on Tuesday.

Because the taxy levy cannot increase between the preliminary and final budget approvals, Giese said he increased the county’s spend down of reserves to cover the difference.

“I would like to see that department better manage the overtime versus giving them more,” said Staples.

 “I don’t like going into the reserves more than we have; we’re already at a number I don’t like,” he added.

The budget includes a proposed spend down of about $331,500. At a public hearing on the budget earlier this month, Giese noted that the county has a “pretty long track record” of not actually spending down as much as is budgeted.

Commissioner Jeanne Ennen asked whether the increased spending on overtime was a result of having a deputy out on medical leave during 2013.

Giese said in a review of the budget, it appeared the sheriff’s office had a “stable history” of spending about $56,000 on overtime, but generally budgeted about $46,000.

“If we have a history of always blowing that section of the budget, it seems that it either should be managed better or they should be budgeting accordingly,” said Commissioner Phil Gausman.

Giese noted that some budget lines, like those for snow removal, can be hard to predict.

“I understand the concern that we want to watch items, but speaking on behalf of department heads, sometimes things are out of your control as well,” said Giese.

After some discussion, Staples moved to approve the September budget, with the pictometry project in a different budget category, rather than the revised budget the board was presented with on Tuesday.

Staples, Gausman and Commissioner Donny Wohlers voted for the motion, while Ennen and Commissioner Bob Kopitzke voted against.

Highway Department adds three permits for overweight vehicles

The board approved one revised and two new permits for the Highway Department: a single trip moving permit, a special overweight annual permit and a seasonal harvest permit.

County Engineer Brian Giese said the new permits need to be created because of new state laws and that he felt it was unfair to not have a permit for vendors or haulers using these vehicles.

If they call to ask “their choice is either to run illegal because we don’t have a permit or not be able to take advantage of the law change,” said Giese.

County hires deputy sheriff

On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners approved hiring Matt Flogstad, currently the police chief in Hancock, as a deputy in the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Jason Dingman said there were 24 applicants for the position. Five applicants were interviewed in early December.

In addition to his position in Hancock, Flogstad also works as a part time deputy with Stevens County. Flogstad’s first day as a full time deputy will be Jan. 2, 2014.

The Stevens County Sheriff’s Office includes Dingman, Chief Deputy Tom Loew and four deputies: Graham Holtberg, Damon Curfman, Ron Hensinger and Flogstad.

Other business

•The board authorized Human Services Director Joanie Murphy to advertise for an office support specialist following a resignation in her department.

•The board scheduled their year-end meeting for Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 9 a.m. at the Stevens County Courthouse.