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County approves preliminary levy for 2012

The Stevens County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a preliminary budget of just over $12.3 million for 2012, which includes an 8.91 percent levy increase.

County Coordinator Brian Giese emphasized that most of the proposed increase - about 8.22 percent - comes from larger debt service payments as part of the courthouse remodeling project and projected cuts to County Program Aid from the State of Minnesota.

"I think there's relative assurance that the County Program Aid in 2012 will be higher than we've projected in this budget, however, there's strong speculation that it will not be anywhere near that number in 2013," Giese told the board. "This action would be in anticipation of having a little bit of levy built into stop the 'shock and awe' that might happen in 2013."

The preliminary budget includes about $12.3 million in expenditures, up 3.8 percent from 2011, and revenues of about $6.1 million. The budget also includes a $300,000 spend down of Human Services reserves and an increase in Road & Bridge reserves of $100,000.

Local governments are required to set a preliminary levy by Sept. 15. The budget will not be finalized until December, but from this point forward the proposed levy can only decrease.

Disagreement over county financial decisions

The meeting turned tense during a discussion about replacing a position in the County Auditor/Treasurer's office that was recently vacated due to retirement. Disagreement over this position reflects a larger concern about how the county continues to handle its financial workload.

County Auditor/Treasurer Neil Wiese came to the board and said he recommended hiring another employee in his office, specifically looking for someone with experience working with financial statements needed by the state auditor.

However, earlier in the week the county personnel committee recommended a different course of action: reclassify the current Highway Department Accountant, Stephanie Buss, to the Highway Accountant/Finance Director. This new position would be responsible for preparing county financial statements and reports, develop the county budget, and work on county-wide financial policies. Under this plan, the committee speculated it would be necessary to hire another employee part-time to work out at the Highway Department to assist with clerical and other duties.

Wiese maintained that the county's financial work should stay in the Auditor's office, suggesting that if Buss did take this new position, responsibility for the county Road and Bridge fund should also move from the Highway Department to his office.

However, Buss disagreed, saying that in other counties where this move has been made, it "does not work. There's just too much one-on-one that you need to know going on [in the highway department]," she said.

On the whole, the commissioners seemed to be leaning towards the plan endorsed by the personnel committee.

"Personally, I still like the personnel committee's recommendation," said Commissioner Phil Gausman. "I think that was the way to go and I'm not quite sure why it got derailed as bad as it did. ... It seems strange to me to be hiring people when we have somebody already here that could do the work. It seems like an unnecessary growth of government to me."

But after further discussion, the board did not feel comfortable making a decision and left the issue on the table for the time being.

"I haven't had a whole lot of time to think about this, and I think it's an issue we need to hash over," Commissioner Larry Sayre said.

Promotions and hirings

The board approved a promotion for Nick Young from maintenance supervisor to facilities manager for the courthouse. Scott Busche, IT director, had been taking on the duties of the facilities manager for the year.

The board agreed to pay Busche $10,000 as compensation for his extra work this year.

Commissioner Paul Watzke said the compensation was "probably pretty cheap considering what [Busche] has done for us."

The board also approved hiring JoAnne Werk as an office assistant and legal secretary for recently appointed County Attorney Aaron Jordan.

Jordan told the board that Werk had worked for former county attorney Charles Glasrud since 1991 and would be "phenomenal going forward."

Other business

  • The Stevens County Ag Society requested for the same funding for 2012, $34,175. Steve Storck, fair board president, said some planned improvements for the fair next year include upgrading the electrical grid, expanding the PA system, adding more gravel to the parking lot and ongoing maintenance.
  • The board approved a request from Sheriff Randy Willis to convert a 2006 Impala from the county vehicle fleet into a prisoner transport car for the Sheriff's Department. The board decided not to replace the car in their fleet and assess their transportation needs further.
  • The board, acting as the Drainage Authority, rejected a petition for a property owner to add drainage to County Ditch 21. At a public hearing on the proposal - which the petitioner did not attend - other residents that use County Ditch 21 said it was already washing out land because it was too full already.
  • The board approved the budget for the Stevens County Redevelopment Authority, which included a levy of $167,000 for 2012, a $5,000 increase from last year.
  • The board approved a grant contract with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs for a CVSO Veterans Service Office Operational Improvement Grant Program for $1,400 to be administered by Hugh Reimers, the county veterans service officer.
  • The board listened to an allocation request from the Stevens County Historical Society. The society requested $59,400 from the county, the same amount as their request last year.